I was first involved just before 2000 in collecting the 1,000 signatures from Claygate residents required to force Elmbridge to petition the national government to set up the parish council.
For me, the most valuable effect of having a parish council in Claygate is the way it has prompted participation/volunteering by residents; harnessing their energy, expertise and money. People can readily see the results of what they have done/given. They gain huge satisfaction from this and encourage others to do the same. People come out for Clean Up Days; they tend local road-side plots, and flower tubs; they plant trees; they support village events. The modest precept which funds the parish council has acted as the grit in the oyster: the parish council facilitates greater community involvement by a large number of clubs and societies. It contributes significantly to maintaining and developing the vibrant community that is Claygate. It promotes localism in action.
A great example of this is the building of the ‘Community Clubhouse’ which has transformed the local Recreation Ground and how it is used. The parish council gave £25k early on to the project which encouraged a team mainly based at the cricket club eventually to raise £360k. And because so many local people were involved they now feel a strong sense of ownership. Interestingly, since the building was completed there has been virtually no vandalism at the rec, whereas in previous times it was happening all the time.
The parish council harnesses expertise of local people, for example in the transport area. This can then be deployed to great effect against misguided Surrey plans. Three or so years ago Claygate led the successful fight against Surrey’s stupid plans to introduce parking meters, from which villages/towns across the county benefited. The planning committee of the parish council enables residents to have an experienced sounding board for their views on local applications.
Up to now Claygate Parish Council has benefited from being a party political free zone, allowing people of all persuasions to work together, practically, for the common good. Until the last election no candidate for the parish council had ever put a party-political label on the ballot paper. Sadly the Conservatives broke with that tradition and I feel that this could be the thin end of a wedge that will undermine the ‘everyone involved’ feel the parish council has had, and benefited from hugely.
In essence a parish can work as the ideal vehicle for generating community engagement. Every pound paid in precept has disproportionately high returns in terms of improvement of the local physical and social environment.
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