Describe the current political structure of your council.
Dez: It's a brand new unitary council – it's never existed before. We have 59 Conservatives, 14 Labour, us three Greens and two Independents. That’s the unitary council, and then Kettering Town Council has 11 Conservatives, five Greens and four Labour – and all but six of those 20 councillors are new councillors.
What was your experience of the election campaign?
Dez: It was intense – we were expecting the elections to happen in May 2020 and because they were postponed due to the pandemic, we've been doing a lot of newsletters and leaflets. Emily is super organised, so when our literature was two days late, she said: “Come on, we’ve got to get this done!” Our election coordinator Laurie has been impressed with us – I think we’re her stars!
Emily: There was so much action – we were out all the time doing things and that was definitely part of the intensity of it. We actually got to know people as well and by the end, regardless of whether we won or not, I just had such a sense of closeness with the ward. We did so much work trying to get posters out to people when we were door-knocking: Dez’s upselling of posters was phenomenal. Just as soon as anyone showed any inkling that they would vote for us – he said: “Right, well you've got to have a poster”.
Sarah: It was amazing, I think we probably had a poster on nearly every road, and on some roads it was literally every three houses! Then also the phone calls and the emails that we got from people just saying: “Thank you so much – I’ve never voted before, I’m definitely going to be voting this time for you guys” and that was so heart-warming, and the random chats that you have with people about their issues even though they may not expect you to do anything, just to have a voice to listen to or chat about it is just really such a nice feeling.
How did it feel to win?
Dez: The ward that we won in was a safe Conservative seat, so with the three of us being Green, we weren't expecting to win all three seats, and we certainly weren't expecting to win by the majorities that we got, which is why Sarah, the third candidate, wasn’t at the count and it was quite a surprise to win! Because Northamptonshire has always been Conservative, the fact that we've had a ward turn Green and with such big numbers, it's kind of been the story of the election – especially for the media. We've been in the local paper loads – three weeks on the trot and we were on the front cover. I don't know if ‘hope’ is the right word, but there’s been a bit of hope for change because it's been a sea of blue forever, so this little chink of green has made the story a little bit.
Emily: We thought we may get two in but we were not expecting everybody which is just great. It’s the first time we ever get a Green councillor in the county and we get three! I think the win was phenomenal in itself – it was about 700 votes between even the lowest one of ours and the next person, so that in itself gives people a lot of hope. If you really work for it you can win, and you can make change – but it did take a lot of work. Ultimately voting in the local elections – that's the stuff that's really going to impact your lives. Your local councillors are the people that can make your lives better.
Sarah: My mum texted me and I didn’t believe her, then suddenly my phone just wouldn't stop vibrating with text after text, and then Dez rang and it was very surreal – but great. When I saw the numbers it was amazing! I don't know when it really sunk in – I think when I spoke to Dez a couple of hours later I was starting to believe it, and then I thought waking up the next morning: “I’m a councillor” – and now it all seems so normal.
What are the green issues affecting your local area?
Emily: A big thing is loss of green space at Weekley Hall Wood, but also just generally. We’re trying to get people to really appreciate these little pockets of space and protect them because we've got such an issue with that in our county, and specifically in Kettering.
Dez: Our specific local area goes from town centre terraces with close streets and parking issues, to semi-detached to newer 90s estates and then housing built in the last 10-15 years – so we've got a wide demographic and each of those areas has different issues. In terms of green issues, we have air quality problems in some areas. The obvious solution to that is fewer exhaust emissions, but to achieve that you have to make it easier for people not to use their cars. We have an e-scooter and an e-bike trial running in Kettering that's been going for about six months now. However, there isn’t the infrastructure for it, so you get complaints about people riding them on pavements because the roads are so dodgy.
Emily: There is a plan for bike storage in the town centre, but it's been very slow to come to fruition. Obviously it’s been hampered by lockdown and the pandemic, but we really have to keep at it because there are some really good ideas, which is all well and good but we actually need action.
Dez: The biggest thing for me is that in 2019 the old Borough Council declared a Climate Emergency and we're still waiting for the Climate Action Plan to be put in place and for things to actually start happening. The parks team in the council is really good – they have a great tree planting policy and they really care about the council-owned green spaces, but it's having that will from the people – the parks team wants to stop using glyphosate, but people think the parks look messy and the weeds need to be removed, so it's more about educating residents about the benefits of weeds to pollinators.
Sarah: I think education has definitely gone up in that sense in the last year, as so many people are letting their gardens grow now. It's a snowball effect – it's still a small minority, but compared to what it was five years ago I think that's a bit different.
What do you hope to achieve in the coming years as a Green councillor?
Sarah: Making North Northamptonshire as green as it can be, and helping the council put in place everything that it wants to do and give them that extra motivation. I think just having Green councillors present on the council is going to make everyone think in a greener way. Already at the first council meeting, the leader of the council gave a speech about what he hopes to achieve and everything that's great in the region. He said that climate change is ‘the golden thread that ties everything together’ and I thought that was really true. It's very exciting to be able to be there and push all our ideas which are both small-scale and large-scale.
Dez: For me it's going to be about influence because we're a small group, we haven't got any real power within the council – but we have got influence now. So we are members of a ‘Green Alliance’ group with an independent – he's been a councillor for 30 years so he's got a lot of experience. He knows his way around the council system so he's a really good asset to have. He's one of the people who proposed the Climate Emergency back in 2019. It's really good to have that additional experience as part of our group. The shadow authority (which was formed before the unitary) came up with a Climate Action Plan with loads of good stuff in there and we’ll need to work to get all of those policies enacted.
To what do you attribute to the growing interest in Greens in your area?
Emily: I really think lockdown has been a really big part – I do think people being stuck at home or literally stuck within their own environment has made people more aware of the issues in that environment and appreciative of their gardens and their green spaces. Green space for mental health has been such a massive thing, especially when you're not allowed to go outside and it's rationed.
Sarah: On a local level, people care about the everyday small things that have nothing to do with green stuff a lot of the time. It's just that we happen to be Green and we also have morals that align with their own and that we're here to help.
Dez: I think the background of the lockdown and us being green and people going out into nature and really appreciating it more was definitely a big part of it, but also our visibility within the ward – we've been out there on the streets and we've worked really, really hard and people have recognised that. People have said that we're the only party that has been visible.
Emily: We’ve understood the issues as well. Doing the litter picks and events has made us realise some of the issues with the area and things that we can do to help – like graffiti cleaning and clearing the area of dog poo. People saw that we were getting out there and doing stuff. It was the first time in 20 years that someone had had their vote count and they were just so grateful really and I think that's given people a lot of hope. Sometimes people think voting for the non-major parties is a wasted vote, but especially at a local level, we've shown it really isn't. It's very much about the people, it's about being active and it's also about working hard and I think that's given people a lot of hope for change.
Sarah: It’s going to be fun and exciting so watch this space!