Shropshire's viral star Jackie Weaver hopes chaotic meeting will force change

In the past, if you thought of a parish council the Vicar of Dibley might spring to mind.

Jackie Weaver
Jackie Weaver

Cups of tea, biscuits and a discussion about the state of the footpaths, an application to cut down a tree or a new parish noticeboard.

That is until now.

The explosive Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral on the internet has people talking about local government in a way that has never happened before.

At the heart of the meeting was the chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, Shropshire's Jackie Weaver.

Cool, calm and collected, Jackie dealt with the bad-tempered councillors in a 20-minute meeting that has been viewed online by millions.When she was told she had no authority she calmly 'muted' the offending councillor sending him to the virtual 'waiting room'.

Watch the infamous meeting:

She has remained just as calm coping with the national attention that has seen her give interview after interview from her home in Prees that she shares with husband Stuart.

Half a century working behind the scenes advising and training parish and town councillors helped Jackie to deal with the meeting and many have compared the way she dealt with the councillors with the way the speaker Betty Boothroyd dealt with unruly MPs in the House of Commons.

She said her association with local government began 25 years ago after bringing up her three children.

"I wanted to find a way back into work and decided to join my then local council, Dodcot-cum-Wilkesley near Whitchurch," she said.

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From being a councillor she took on a paid role for the Cheshire Association of Local Councils whose headquarters in at Combermere, near Whitchurch.

While Jackie is keen to stress that the scenes that unfolded at Handforth are rare, she and others involved in local government recognise that things need to change.

When Oswestry Town Council's former clerk, Daivd Preston, was president of the Local Association of local council clerks three years ago he focused on the bullying of council clerks and officials.

He said then it was important to ensure sanctions could be brought against those who used bullying behaviour in meetings.

After seeing the council meeting and the reaction he said: "This is a dark day for local government as it detracts from the many local councils that are doing great things. It could put back the reputation of local councils by many years.

"I hope it will lead to action. This is a growing, not diminishing problem."

Jackie hopes that the reaction will bring change in many ways.

"Most of the time the work of parish councils can seen a little dull," she said.

"But is is of vital importance."

Jackie Weaver

"I want to encourage people who think this was not acceptable behaviour to say we won't accept it and to think about getting involved in their own parish council. Unfortunately, particularly in rural areas, parish councillors tend to be older people.

"But the world has changed and a lot of younger people are moving into the countryside. Getting involved in your parish council really can make a difference.Councillors can campaign for things close to their heart and changes can be made, for instance to help young people."

She also wants to see the streaming of parish council meetings to continue beyond lockdown, something that many are lobbying Central Government for.

Online meetings were introduced last March to ensure that local government could continue during the pandemic.

However, the arrangement is due to come to an end in May.

Jackie Weaver

Jackie said: "A fifth of parish councils have reported increased attendance at meetings online. It can be very intimidating walking into a council meeting, more more so than attending online. "

"I want to see councils be allowed to continue their meetings online to ensure more people can become more involved."

"Having parish councils online mean that more people can log on and watch the meetings and see the work of their own parish council," she said.

Jackie replied: "It's actually kind of a bit like a cross between trying to help families resolve their issues and hostage negotiations."

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