Knocking on doors and talking with residents is a remarkable privilege and one I very much enjoy. Despite the uninvited interruption, I am almost always pleasantly surprised by the generosity and goodwill most people show. Love you, or hate you, residents seem, at least, to give you credit for caring and for taking the time to ask about their daily lives. It’s through these canvassing conversations, person to person, that you truly learn about people’s thoughts and immediate local concerns.
During the last few months my Mendip West running partner, Heather Shearer, and I have knocked on well over 3,000 doors as candidates for Somerset County Council, (which will be the new unitary Somerset Council from April 1st, 2023). Sadly we witnessed many coping with difficult family circumstances, listened to thoughtful comments on the challenges we all face. But also shared laughter and insights with countless funny, interesting and delightful people on the doorsteps. It provided us a long to do list and with some incredible memories, and has left us with an overwhelming feeling of respect for Mendip residents.
Some were totally disenchanted, turned-off and angry with politics. Some got personal, saying ‘you are all in it for the money!’ I was soon able to diffuse that suggestion with one nod towards my £500 car... There are frustrations over local planning issues, or the ‘thoughtlessness’ of neighbours, worries about housing growth with the absence of infrastructure, our narrow rural roads that can’t cope with rapidly growing traffic, the shocking lack of public transport and the need for safe, off-road travel paths. Often people queried the role of our local MP. They asked why the government wanted to reorganise local government during a pandemic – and why the recent referendum of 70% of Mendip people’s views on a single unitary, were simply ignored. Most worrying of all are concerns about the cost of living crisis and how we could act to reduce the impact.
But for me the most painful memory was a couple in their 30s coping with a very autistic child, much loved but needing 2 to1 support, and their desperate task to find respite care. Despite their efforts they could find no appropriate help. I’m not one for peddling promises without a healthy dose of reality. I know that however much I try – and I will keep at it - the sad fact is that the care system has hundreds of vacancies in Somerset. It’s cases like this that drive me onwards to try to make a difference.
With the shade, come moments of light. Canvassing during a dry April has been sheer pleasure. We were able to visit many different parts of the 30 villages and hamlets, and beautiful countryside that make up Mendip West. We witnessed some wonderful front gardens (variegated tulips seem to have had a good year) and met a fair few varieties of dog too!
But the comment that tickled me most was from an inquisitive 8 year old who, when informed that the lady at the door wanted to be on the Council, responded with a look of total admiration, and gasped, “the Jedi Council?”
If you have any questions for me about this column, or anything else, do get in touch, I am always happy to hear from you. Email: [email protected] / Facebook: @RosWyke.
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].