I WAS disappointed when it emerged that Lyme Regis Town Council’s youngest member, 22-year-old Leon Howe, had decided to give up his seat.
I voted for Leon because a young voice on the town council was long overdue and it was obvious he had been brought up to have a social conscious, being the son of local community champions Rikey Austin and Paddy Howe.
I well remember Leon when he was only nine or ten years-old, standing outside the Three Cups making a speech urging the owners to reopen the long-standing dilapidated hotel again. That was very brave for one so young and he delivered his speech word perfect.
He also made history by standing as an official Labour candidate for the first time anyone could remember and winning a seat on a council that had been unofficially blue since the mists of time. He also stood unsuccessfully on a Labour ticket in the Dorset Council election in May 2019.
At the mayor-making ceremony in 2019 I proposed the toast to the town council – or was it the town, I can’t quite remember? – in which I congratulated Leon and Kelsey Ellis, daughter of former mayor Michaela Ellis and another young newcomer, on their election.
I told them the future of the town was in their hands and the time had come for them to wrestle the baton from yesterday’s men like myself. Leon, a pleasant young man, was sat in front of me and turned around to say thank you.
But it’s never been easy for youngsters to find their feet in the Guildhall chamber. I won a seat on the council in a by-election to become the council’s youngest member at the time, at 32 years old, and went on to become mayor two years later.
Having covered local government as a reporter from the age of 17, I had a good knowledge of how local government worked. But for those who had never stepped inside the council chamber to sit with experienced councillors who had occupied their seat for years took a lot of guts.
I remember when Lucy Campbell became the council’s youngest member. She was not treated particularly well by fellow councillors in those days but she went on to stamp her character on the council, working hard for issues which involved young people and becoming an influential voice.
Kelsey has settled in well and has already become a committee chairman responsible for tourism and community affairs in the town. But local government is not everyone’s cup of tea and I felt that Leon probably came to this conclusion after a few weeks.
I’m sure that lockdown and the council having to meet by video conferencing didn’t help, but it was obvious he wasn’t particularly comfortable with the role and his attendances fell away.
After going six months without attending a meeting, the council was left with no option but to relinquish his right to be a councillor.
I think it would probably have been better had Leon informed the mayor or town clerk of his intention but that’s of little consequence now. He did use social media to say that sitting on the council was not for him but he did not elaborate, which was sensible.
I admire Leon for giving it a go and I’m sure his future will involve working in the community sector in some form or other and I wish him well.
This means there is now a vacancy on the council and that if ten electors call for an election Lyme will go to the ballot box once again, but that won’t happen until May because of COVID-19. If the requisite number of electors don’t call for a contest the council will be able to co-opt.
Rumour has it, unconfirmed, that another existing member might stand down if there is an election. The rumour mill works overtime when elections are concerned so this may not be the case.
So here’s the chance for those who are so critical of the town council on social media to offer their services and see if they can do better.
If there is anyone out there who is interested, I would urge them to fully acquaint themselves with the duty of a town councillor and take the opportunity of sitting in on a meeting, by Zoom if necessary, so they get an idea of how things work.
If they stand and are successful in winning a seat, they will find it’s not an easy job.
Whilst on the subject of Lyme Regis Town Council, this column has often been critical of some of the decision making.
But I’ve always been a great admirer of the council’s outside staff who very often take the can for poor decision making by councillors. I just wanted to say that I’ve never seen the cemetery looking better than it does at the moment.
The cemetery has often been the subject of many complaints over the years, especially over dog fouling, but I’ve never seen it look in such a pristine state.
It is important, obviously, to those who regular tend the graves that their loved ones are at peace in a place that is well cared for.
Farewell to Margaret, a one-off never to be forgotten
LYME Regis bid farewell this week to charismatic former Pilot Boat landlady Margaret Vincent, described as a “one-off”.
It was the first funeral I have attended conducted under the strict COVID-19 regulations. Numbers were restricted to a maximum of 15 but I have no doubt, had this been in normal times, the parish church would have been full to capacity, such was her popularity when she ran the Pilot Boat with husband Jack Vincent for many years.
The service was conducted with dignity by the Reverend Chris Martin, the new Rector of the Golden Cap Benefice, and I was invited to deliver the eulogy, having been a close friend of Margaret and Jack.
I have been privileged to have written and presented the eulogy for a number of people over the years but never in such circumstances.
Margaret was brought into church to a recording of one of her favourite pieces of music, ‘When a Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square’, played by one of Margaret’s favourite local organisations, Lyme Regis Town Band. No singing was allowed but there was recordings of two of her favourite hymns – ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘Abide With Me’.
Margaret’s nephew Chris read Psalm 23, ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, and the Reverend Martin delivered a very touching address. My contribution was a little less reverential as I recalled some of the many happy and riotous times my generation enjoyed at the Pilot Boat.
The service finished with a recording of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’. Margaret would have testified to enjoying a “wonderful life” until Jack, the love of her life, passed away.
And this is certainly not a “wonderful” time to live – but it was comforting to see that, despite the stringent restrictions the church has to follow, we were able to say our farewells to a wonderful character who loved Lyme and its people.
Top marks also go to local undertakers A.J. Wakely & Sons for organising the service in such an efficient and sympathetic manner.
A retiring collection will be divided between Weldmar Hospice Care and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
At the request of the family as so many people were unable to attend, you can read the eulogy in full by clicking here.