With Handforth Parish Council making the headlines all over the place this week, I just want to say that I was covering parish council meetings before they got too mainstream.
In my reporter days from 2008-2009, I had to cover at least three – sometimes even four – town or parish council meetings every month. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed them. They would often go on for at least two hours, sometimes even more than three. And very often, I would struggle to get too many lengthily news stories from what was discussed.
There were frequently factions and feuds among councillors that stretched back decades, as well as accusations of bullying. But there were also some decent people serving as councillors who wanted to do their bit to help their local community, instead of those being on a power trip to arrange planting of flowers and village fetes.
Often during these meetings, I would look around the room and often be the youngest in there by about 30 years and think: “I’m 24 and this is what I’m doing with my life.”
In fact, being asked to cover a council meeting on a Friday night just as I was about to leave the office for the weekend gave me the final push I needed to hand in my notice.
Nevertheless, parish councils have their place in the great circle of democracy. Even if it rarely felt like it at the time.
And just as a claim to fame, one of the places I attended every month ended up being used as the location of the vicar’s office on This Country.
Probably my most interesting meeting was at a council I didn’t normally report on, but was sent specifically to cover the contentious issue of a pedestrian crossing in the village. I was told I didn’t need to stay for the entirety. So I left with the campaigners after getting some explosive quotes.
It felt amazing to walk out of a council meeting after about 30 minutes, instead of being in there for the usual near two hours. I hopped into my car to drive the 14 miles home, for an early-ish night. And here comes the ‘however’.
However, upon turning into my road and two minutes from home, I realised I’d left my bag in the council meeting. So for a couple of seconds I weighed up going back to get it immediately, or just ring around the next day to try and find the right person who may have picked it up. Either scenario wasn’t going to make me look too good. I opted for the first option.
By now, an hour had passed since I left the meeting. It was still going on, because of course it was. It’s one of the few times I was grateful that they like to talk for a very long time at parish council meetings.
I awkwardly crept back into the room, rolled my eyes and shook my head in a comical fashion to the councillors who were looking at me. I then picked up my bag and left the meeting for a second time.
I got a good story out of it, which is actually in my portfolio. I would have just preferred I could have covered meetings by watching Zoom all those years ago.