The journal of a new councillor (part 1)

Helen Burton was elected as a new councillor in Eastbourne last year. In this moni-series, she explains what led her to run in the first place…

I can’t believe it was a year ago I was elected as an Eastbourne Borough Councillor, the time has absolutely flown by. Who could have imagined a year ago that I would be writing this during lockdown in the middle of a pandemic, a crisis affecting local councils across the country?

My path to becoming a councillor in Eastbourne started with my volunteer role in the local community. I had already been a Parish councillor in adjacent Pevensey for four years before standing in Eastbourne. During that time, I was also a regular community campaigner, having started a community forest garden and written a weekly ethical lifestyle column in the Eastbourne Herald for nearly three years.

In 2016, I founded a community interest company called Volunteers Network to formalise the work I was doing. As I became more embedded in the Eastbourne voluntary sector it was obvious that in Eastbourne, it is the local Liberal Democrat’s that you go to if you need support. I asked Stephen Lloyd to become a Patron of one of our projects and his advice was invaluable. He wasn’t just a figurehead he was a great supporter and mentor. I was really impressed that even as a busy MP he always took the time to respond to emails and offer advice. Many of the ward councillor’s had also been helpful in my work, and it was apparent that they were also very active in the community their own right. This is what inspired me to join the Liberal Democrat’s.

Volunteers Network has now been supporting the community in East Sussex for several years and I think this is why in May last year I was asked to stand as a Councillor in the St. Anthony’s ward, where I grew up.

The period election period was a stressful time as the campaign coincided with finally getting the keys to the library my team and I had been fighting to save for the previous two years. In addition, I was relentlessly targeted by opposition trolls online, and people who had supported my work for years suddenly withdrew their support.

As a single mum of a child with special needs, finding time for campaigning wasn’t always easy. Luckily, I had the support of my family and friends and managed to juggle campaigning with re-cataloguing 7,000 books at the library and getting it ready to re-open. I’ve been a Councillor for a year now, and I can honestly say it was all worth it!

As a social entrepreneur, I’ve always tried to use my voice to help those who need it and as a councillor I have a louder voice, with the potential to make a bigger difference.

Aside from the casework, the most vital role of a Councillor is arguably one of influence. By sitting in committees and using my experience in social care and the voluntary sector I hope I have been able to influence what we do as a council and how we work. I am part of a team, a committed group who aim to keep everything running well in our town, creating the best environment possible for our residents. As a Lib Dem controlled council, our team sets the agenda and our decisions have Liberal Democrat values at their heart. I am proud to be part of that team, and would urge anyone considering standing in a council role to go for it. You have some time now before the next local elections and communities are going to need help to thrive, so get involved with your local community, get involved with your local Lib Dem group and start to make a difference now!

* Helen Burton is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

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2 Comments

  • Phil Beesley 5th May '20 - 10:12pm

    What are local people doing for themselves?

    How do you chip in?

  • Helen Burton 6th May '20 - 5:30pm

    Good question Phil! The answer is that local people (like me) are doing more and more, because austerity has closed so many public services. We, as volunteers, are having to plug the gaps. It’s not right, so as well as working to make sure residents still have support I, as a councillor, can work with a team to try to reduce the cuts causing the damage to our communities.

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