By Harry Mottram: meet Colin and June – the unusual double act of Independent Councillors who represent Westmoreland in the city.
It may come as a surprise but independent councillors out number those of the main political parties across the country. Although not in Bath and North East Somerset where there are only five. Two of those Independents are Councillors June Player and Colin Blackburn who represent Westmoreland in a double councillor ward. Westmoreland covers an area of streets around Moorland Road nestling between Moorlands, Twerton and Oldfield Park – and takes the name of the former Westmoreland Place – the location of which is now outside of the ward. It’s a densely populated area known for the shops in Moorland Road and for the numbers of university students who live in the HMOs (house in multiple occupation) plus Oldfield Park Station – the rail gateway to the city.
The ward is represented by the double act of June and Colin who both agree they help to represent different age groups and interests in the area. June is a great grandmother with a background in special needs education in Exeter (and a former mayor of Bath) while Colin has worked in the private sector in sales and management and currently works with students seeking grant funded work experience programmes for work and study in the UK. It was a plea from her daughter several years ago that brought June to Bath in order to help look after her new baby boy while Colin arrived due to his parents moving to Corsham from Essex when he was a teenager. He admits he left school for a shop job as college didn’t agree with him. Since then he’s worked in Nottingham and as he puts it ‘all around the world.’
“I moved to Bath a few years ago renovating a house in Westmoreland and my local councillor June Player came and collared me and asked me if myself and my family would get involved in the community,” explained Colin – prompting a chuckle from June who denied she collared him. Colin replied by saying he would of course take a role in the community as a new resident and helped with litter picking and volunteering. “A couple of years later June twisted my arm to run with her in the election as another Independent councillor,” he continued with a smile, “fortunately a lot of people knew me and knew I was genuinely independent. It’s important to be genuinely independent rather than to be politically linked.”
June said: “I’ve always been involved in the community and getting involved and I didn’t realise how useful that experience was when I decided to stand as a councillor. I’ve always been community minded and I am not political. I don’t see why politics should be involved in the ward issues of things like dog mess and litter. It’s the small things in life that affect us – those everyday issues that have to be dealt with – yes, there are bigger issues. I work on the street level dealing with those things like drop kerbs. While Colin has experience in research, business and finance so that’s why we complement each other with different skills.”
Colin said it was June’s community involvement that ‘chimed’ with him. He said: “When June asked me to run as a councillor I thought we genuinely had a blend as I would be working with someone with different life experiences. But we both have similar principles and we both represent the views of the residents.”
They both agreed that some issues split the community they represent such as the Resident’s Parking Zone which they feel was brought in without enough public consultation.
The problem of where will people park their cars when visiting the Community Library in Moorland Road, the schools, the shops in Moorland Road and the health centre are hot topics on their agenda.
Westmoreland has changed even in the last ten years Colin said with an increase in the HMOs which has seen some families and young professionals squeezed out of the property market which has had a detrimental effect on the area with a loss of council tax – and up to 60% of the properties in some streets occupied by students.
“I love Oldfield Park Station,” said June, “as I adopted it years ago. It’s the heart of our community and the gateway to Bath and it just needed some TLC. So, I set up a gardening project to make it more attractive to wildlife and to people and a nice place to visit. Colin used to bring the water to water the plants in his child’s buggy.”
They both see how the community is changing with the Riverside area bringing in new people – just as it has since the beginnings of Westmoreland. When the terraced housing was built most people didn’t have cars, children played in the street and their parents had jobs in town including many at the coking plant – long since disappeared. So in some ways the area has reflected in general how society as a whole has changed.
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