Anna Cope: Making Tonbridge and Malling a safe place for all

Newly-elected councillor Anna Cope speaks to Green World about the experience of her campaign and how she hopes to tackle green issues in Tonbridge and Malling.

Anna Cope
Green World
Describe the current political structure of your council.

At Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, there are currently four Green councillors, 36 Conservatives, one Labour councillor, nine Lib Dems and the remaining five seats are Independents.

What was your experience of the election campaign? How did it feel to win? 

The election campaign showed me how hard the volunteers in my local Green Party work, and how passionately they support political change. I, unfortunately, caught Covid. I got my positive test literally the day the by-election was called, but I was so lucky to have people around me to ensure I had time to get better while they got straight to work. 

The process of putting together the campaign materials was fascinating, and I realised how lucky I was to have a brilliant team that gave me all the support I needed, but also encouraged me to write what I wanted to communicate. My election agent, Fran, was the most organised and calm person you could hope to work with, and she encouraged me at all times, never putting me under any pressure, something that I found invaluable whilst balancing campaigning with working as a teacher and also having a young family. 

I loved the aspect of the campaign that a lot of people seem to worry about: door knocking. It was so lovely to speak to a broad range of people, whether or not they were going to vote for me. My biggest problem with campaigning was the time of year. I imagine the experience in spring is very different to the cold, rain and sleet of late November and early December! 

The day of the count was slightly surreal as it was a school day, so I had to rely on other people sending me the news. The previous candidate had secured the seat with a massive majority, and the leader of the council plus our local Conservative MP had both been campaigning hard for the opposition candidate, so I really felt some nerves. I’d have been personally disappointed if I hadn’t won, but I was so mindful of all the time and effort everyone around me had put in. To win, and make those people pleased, was completely amazing. And then having people in town, or on the school run, telling me how pleased they were – it was just such a humbling experience.

What are the green issues affecting your local area? 

They’re the same issues that affect everyone at the moment but in my ward, trying to find the balance between providing the housing that families here desperately need and guaranteeing sustainable development is so important. There are often plans to build flats, whilst we have families crying out for affordable housing. This area is outstandingly beautiful, and we are so incredibly lucky. We need to ensure that the conservation area in our town is respected and that the Green Belt in the borough is protected. 

Other local Greens, such as Mark Hood, work so hard to encourage brownfield development, ensuring that local housing strategies respect that this is a huge issue here. Development is so important economically for the town and surrounding villages, and this needs to be done in a way that is environmentally sustainable and meets the needs of local people. Traffic and road safety is also massively important, with controversy over 20 mph speed limits being introduced, but we must also recognise the need for a longer-term plan that moves from the dominance of cars in the area to something more sustainable. 

Without a well-thought-out strategy that makes cyclists and pedestrians feel safer, and provides affordable public transport going to the right places at the right times, we’re not going to be truly exploring the potential to make a difference in terms of road safety. 

What do you hope to achieve in the coming years as a Green councillor? 

Firstly, I would love the local Green Party to attract a more diverse membership, as I know that it does not fully represent the community. As an intersectional feminist, I recognise my privilege and I want to ensure that I am holding the door that opened for me open for others who feel they aren't there yet, whether in terms of ethnicity, social class, disability or age. This is incredibly important to me. As a teacher at a girls school, I also know that women so often don't feel safe, and I am keen to work on strategies to ensure that Tonbridge and Malling both feels like and is a safe place for everyone. 

The pandemic has also hit children and young people so hard: they have made such huge sacrifices to keep the rest of society safe, yet so many currently feel the area isn't offering them that much to do in their leisure time. From babies and toddlers, to frustrated teens and everyone in between, I want people to feel that their local community has something for them. The impact of the last two years on everyone’s mental health has been immense, and children and young people need to know that support is there to help them with this. I want to see this addressed in the local area as a matter of urgency.

To what do you attribute the growing interest in Greens in your area? 

Rubbish. Picking up rubbish in litter picks has been one of the most impactful ways that the local Green Party has shown its commitment to improving the area, with almost no financial outlay. As well as improving the environment, it has been invaluable in making connections with people who attend so that they can raise the issues that are troubling them. I recently organised a food drive for our local food bank, and that small action was just another way to signal to people that the Greens are compassionate, and focused on helping in the ways that make a huge difference to people.