Shrewsbury Town Council clerk lifts lid on 'pulling a Jackie Weaver' as she hails internet star

Internet star and no nonsense parish council queen Jackie Weaver may have done more for hyper local democracy than anyone else over the last 20 years.

Jackie Weaver
Jackie Weaver

That is the view of Shrewsbury Town Council clerk Helen Ball, who watched in awe as Prees-based Jackie took worldwide attention in her stride.

The viral video of the chaotic Handforth Parish Council meeting, in which Jackie admirably kept her cool in the face of aggressive behaviour, has garnered millions of views and resulted in Jackie appearing in national and international news, as well as popping up on Good Morning Britain and The Last Leg.

She had a cake of her face baked by a star of TV show Extreme Cake Makers, a song in her honour performed by legendary composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and featured in a spoof sketch on Football Focus.

Helen, who has been town clerk for Shrewsbury for more than a decade, has enjoyed watching how the phenomenon has unfolded, but today insisted there is also the serious element of bullying to take into consideration.

Helen Ball

"I've found it fascinating," she said. "Lots of my friends and family who know I work for a town council have all been getting in touch asking if that's what it's really like. It has brought parish councils to the forefront, especially when you see it being spoken about by the likes of Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain.

"She really did well. She's probably done more overnight for parish and town councils in the last 15 or 20 years than any one single person has in raising the profile. It goes to show these things do happen. There are issues with standards of behaviour here in Shropshire as well, it's not a problem exclusive to Cheshire. I've faced it before, thankfully not with this council.

"I get that everyone is Covid-ed out and they can snap, but it's not nice for the person in the firing line of something like that."

Helen lifted the lid on one occasion where she had to pull a Jackie Weaver, but rather than simply kick a misbehaving individual out of a virtual meeting, she had to march them out in person.

"I had to eject somebody once at a previous council," she said.

"The individual got really quite disruptive. The chairman warned them if they carried on they would be out, but they carried on.

"I escorted them out and said 'you don't really want us to have to ring the police to drag you away, follow me'. It was a bit strange to walk back in to everybody clapping."

The increase in virtual meetings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has brought hilarity on several occasions.

Viral

Just days after Jackie's triumphant work, a lawyer went viral after he couldn't turn off a cat filter during a judicial court hearing.

But while they have their pitfalls, for parish councils they give more people the chance to get involved, so Helen hopes they are here to stay and more people engage.

"Obviously we want to get back to in person meetings, but we've had more people watching our meetings and a better councillor attendance," she said.

"I've tried to make a real effort to make sure the public know what we're talking about and they've got access to the papers we're discussing, so there can be a sense of debate about it.

"We've got an election coming up, so if people don't like what their parish councils are doing, now is the time you can do something about it.

"It's local people making local decisions in their area and it's important, because we don't want larger and larger authorities making decisions that affect issues they they don't understand like local people do."

So can you expect fireworks when logging onto the next Shrewsbury Town Council meeting?

"We haven't got to that stage," Helen laughed.

"I haven't been told I've got no authority. But I haven't read the standing orders for a while."

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