How Green Party Councillors are making change in Kettering
In May 2021, Kettering surprised itself by electing five Green Party councillors. Dez Dell, Keiron Farrow, Emily Fedorowycz, James Towns and Sarah Tubbs won seats on Kettering Town Council, and Dez, Emily and Sarah also won seats on North Northants Council (NNC). This was a remarkable result given that the town has had a Conservative MP (Philip Hollobone) since 2005 and a largely Tory council for as long as anyone can remember. So how did they do it and, more importantly, how are they maintaining the support not just for now, but also with an eye on future elections?
I reckon it comes down to action and engagement. Even before they stood for election, the ‘Kettering Five’ were active in the locale. They were known around the town for their involvement in local environmental matters – for example, campaigning to save a much-loved green space known as Weekley Hall Wood from being destroyed to allow yet more warehouses to be built on the edge of town. (Kettering is at the heart of the so-called logistics ‘golden triangle’.)
Significantly, before they stood for election they regularly attended council meetings as members of the public, and asked awkward questions. They soon realised that a Green presence was definitely needed. When Northamptonshire County Council disappeared to be replaced by NNC and the borough council was replaced by the new town council, they stepped up and a vigorous and well-organised campaign secured them the seats. The challenge then was to maintain the momentum and grow support. They have achieved this by connecting with our community.
We’ve all heard people moaning, ‘The council won’t do anything,’ but that’s not true of these five councillors. I think it helps that they are a relatively young team and not yet jaded by knock-backs. Their response to any request or problem is ‘How can I help fix this?’ or failing that ‘Who do I know who can help?’
For example, residents in one of the town’s many narrow terraced streets were having problems with litter and fly-tipping. It was an area that was in need of some love, so the Kettering Five liaised with the council’s Cleansing Department to close the road for a day so the length of the street could be cleared, swept and washed. Not only did they organise this, but they literally rolled up their sleeves and set to it with brushes themselves.
Elsewhere, they run regular litter picks and support those organised by other groups. They have taken action on the perennial problem of dog mess on pavements by building dog poo bag dispensers and installing them at strategic locations. Residents can take a free bag if they’ve forgotten one and then replace it next time they’re out.
One of the key ways in which the Kettering Five keep in touch with the neighbourhood is the distribution of a regular newsletter that goes to all residents, not just Green voters. It is a way of sharing good news – e.g. they’ve been involved in the recent installation of a bleed kit in the town centre – passing on council news, such as changes to bin collections or dates of council meetings, and promoting forthcoming events, such as community lunches or meetings to discuss local concerns like the cost of living crisis and the ongoing challenge of caring for our homeless.
These newsletters are delivered by an army of volunteers, many of whom were involved in the 2021 election campaign and who have continued to support the councillors. Others are new recruits who can see that Greens are making a difference. This energy is nurtured by keeping in touch with everyone by phone, online and at face-to-face events, and making it clear how valuable their contribution is. Saying thank you matters.
There is a perception that it’s difficult to contact councillors because they are protected by the shield of the main council switchboard, where callers are invited to choose from several options before finally reaching the voicemail of the person they’re trying to contact and waiting in vain for a response. In contrast, the mobile phone numbers of the Kettering Five are easily found on all local Green Party literature. If you want to speak to one of them, you can – and they will act.
Of course, it makes sense to keep in the good books of the voting public and remind them that the Green Party is the one that will act in the best interests of the community and the environment. It’s about staying in touch not just with the people who voted for them, but also everyone in the ward they represent. At the heart of all this, however, is a sincere concern for Kettering and a genuine desire to make life better for everyone.
Julia Thorley is a writer and environmental activist based in Kettering.
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