Interview with Kelly Holland, Clerk of Ashingdon Parish Council (20th September 2011)
In the beginning of September we went along to Ashingdon Memorial, to a small room at the rear where a group of local people meet on a regular basis to discuss the affairs of the community. They are Ashingdon Parish Council. They did know I was coming and I was handed a very full two-sides of A4 Agenda plus nearly 70 sides of A4 accompanying sheets! While the meeting is presided over by the Chairman, Councillor Debbie Constable, the quiet power behind the scenes who produces or collects and collates all this paperwork to enable the Council to work is the Clerk to the Council, Kelly Holland. For regular readers of Rochford Life, you will know that a year ago we interviewed Janice Rigby, the Clerk to Rochford Parish Council, to find out just what the Council did. Rather than simply go over the same ground with Kelly we sought to reveal the work of the Council by a more personal approach with Kelly. The following is the result!
Rochford Life: Kelly how long have you actually been Clerk to the Ashingdon Parish Council?
Kelly: To Ashingdon, I’ve been Clerk since 2010.
RL: Right, now the way you said that suggests you’ve been a Clerk to another Council?
Kelly: Yes, I’m also the Clerk to Canewdon Parish Council as well – since July 2008.
RL: I believe you have to go through a fair bit of training to be a Clerk?
Kelly: Yes, they like you to do the Certificate in Local Council Administration; it’s just the basics on being a Clerk and it’s run by the Essex Training Partnership which is part of the Essex Association of Local Councils. It’s done over six months and you go for four hour sessions once a month and they give you loads of homework and you make a portfolio and it and hopefully you pass. That’s just the basics, the foundation material.
RL: You are a part-time Clerk?
Kelly: Yes, I am. For Ashingdon I do twenty hours a week but sometimes it goes over; it depends how busy I am. Then for Canewdon I do sixteen hours a week.
RL: So you are in reality a full-time Clerk?
Kelly: Yes, I suppose I am, but for two different Parish Councils.
RL: So how do the Council’s vary?
Kelly: Canewdon is quite quiet in comparison to Ashingdon, possibly because it is smaller and it’s more of a community than Ashingdon is, but I’ve got members on Canewdon Parish Council who have been there for some thirty years. I’ve got a couple on the Ashingdon Council who have been there twenty years but most are more recent. Canewdon has nine councillors and Ashingdon has eleven. Ashingdon is more youth orientated; they like to do a lot for the youth, getting grants for the youth as well as doing things for their other constituents. Canewdon is just a bit quieter. I seem to be doing more for Ashingdon than for Canewdon, but that may just be because it is bigger.
RL: How would you sum up the purpose or role of the Clerk?
Kelly: It’s so difficult to define the role because there is so much that we do. We are minute takers, we do the finances, we instruct contractors, we get grants, we get consultations from government that we have to put into normal terms for the Parish Council to comment upon. There is just so much. In Canewdon we do the allotments, we have the street lights, we’ve got benches; basically it is managing the Parish Council.
RL: You are essentially the executive arm of the Council?
Kelly: Yes we are, but in so many people’s eyes we’re just secretaries. Writing letters is about 1% of the job; a lot of it is around the law and all the things that are coming in from the Government like the Localism Bill. We have to know exactly what they are talking about and then inform the Parish Council accordingly.
RL: Will the Localism Bill affect something as lowly as the Parish Council?
Kelly: Well that’s what we hope isn’t it. That’s what the government hopes, that the community takes control of the community, and to give us more powers, which would be nice because we are restricted by our powers. We don’t have many and it is quite frustrating when you get people ring you up and say, can you do this and we have to say, well, no we can’t because we don’t have the powers to do it. For instance because they are now talking about this general power of competence as long as it doesn’t break any laws basically, we can do anything. I can’t think of anything specific because there are probably only about forty powers that we’ve got (To see guide CLICK HERE)
RL: Do you see being a Clerk something that will just go on, perhaps as part of your lifestyle now?
Kelly: Yes, it’s very fulfilling; no two days are the same so it’s not a job you get bored with. It’s a profession even though it is not seen as a profession, and now I have the two it’s full-time hours so it’s what I hope to continue to do.
RL: What is your background?
Kelly: I’ve done a bit of everything really. I used to work at Southend Borough Council in the Rating Department. I started training as a teacher but gave that up. I then had my children and so wanted something I could do from home. One day a leaflet was dropped off for a Clerk for Canewdon Parish Council and I went for it and got it, and was then later lucky to get Ashingdon as well. It made sense to me to get the two next door to each other, so to speak. I now also do some training as well for the Essex Association which fulfils the teaching desire I had; I teach Laws and Procedures and Minutes and Agenda. I’m also just going through the training now to train the Certificate in Local Council Administration as well so I’m getting to do what I originally wanted to do as part of this job.
RL: Why do you think it is important that out there the people understand what goes on in the Council?
Kelly: Because we are spending their money at the end of the day. That’s what it comes down to. We try to raise the profile of the Parish Council but I think because we haven’t got many powers there’s often not much that we can actually do at the moment, and so because they don’t think we can do much, perhaps they forget that we are there.
RL: Yes, it’s a shame that there is so much endeavour by so many people of good will that goes unseen.
Kelly: Yes, definitely! They love their communities and want to make it better for the residents. I didn’t even know what a parish council was; when I got the advert for Canewdon Parish Council I didn’t even know what it was. But if we do get more powers then we can do more and perhaps people will recognise that we are here.
RL: Working for two Councils and having a young family as well. Isn’t there a lot of stress in that?
Kelly: Well of course to start with I only had Canewdon and it was three hours a day and my youngest was coming up for one and the older one, two. I only worked in the evenings when they went to bed so it didn’t really affect them. Then I gradually brought it in during the day and they’ve just got used to it, but I like to know that if the school rang me now, and one of them wasn’t feeling well, I could go and get them straight away. Working like this from home is the best of both worlds really.
RL: How many evenings are you out doing both Councils?
Kelly: The first week of the month is my busiest time because I have a Parish Council meeting on the first Monday for Ashingdon and the first Wednesday for Canewdon. Ashingdon don’t have a Planning Committee but they do meet to discuss planning applications on the third Monday and Canewdon meet on the third Wednesday to do it, so two weeks a month I’m out twice a week. They both have personnel committees but they don’t meet very often, only for appraisals and for going over contracts and things like that, so it’s not too bad on the evening meeting side.
RL: If you had a wish list for the Council and the Community, what would be high on the list?
Kelly: I’m not sure. I wish that people would get more involved and get into what we are doing. We always want feedback, so for people to give us feedback would be good. It would be nice to get feedback on what people would like. We had a survey done of all the youth and they wanted a skate park for both Canewdon and Ashingdon so we’re looking into getting grants for that at the moment but we’d like to hear from the wider community to hear what they want. When we held Council surgeries for Ashingdon – we did them last week – and Ashingdon take on South Fambridge as well and we get a brilliant turnout there and they want some help. We also take part of Hockley and we have surgeries in Hockley and at the Memorial Hall Ashingdon but people don’t turn up, so we’re left wondering do they not turn up because they are content or because they don’t know we’re here. It’s very difficult to try and reach them. We would really like to know what everyone else wants in their community, because we assume what everyone likes, but it may not be; they might want something else.
RL: If they thought about it. I confess that we have lived in Rochford for over thirty years and for much of that time we never gave a thought to the works of the Councils; we just accepted what went on. We’re trying to change that now. Well thank you so much, Kelly, for giving us your time and sharing with us. That has been a great insight. Thank you again!
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