Cllr Brenda Burgess represents Three Bridges Ward on Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council.
I have been a Crawley Borough Councillor for 15 years. Two years after being elected, Conservatives gained the local Borough Council following many years of Labour Rule. I became the Cabinet Member for Housing. I must admit, being new, I found the job very daunting, especially as it was at the time when local councils were being encouraged to transfer their housing stock to Registered Social Landlords. When I relinquished the positon I was elected to be Mayor. My husband, who had become a Councillor and my colleague in 2007, was my consort.
A very full and interesting year followed. The only difficult part was chairing the Full Council which could be very challenging. I hope I was fair to all sides. I was proud to have ‘Open House’ as my Mayor’s Charity. Open House is an organisation which helps the homeless to find a way forward and into accommodation.
I wanted a way to give the local people more of a voice whilst encouraging them to take ‘ownership’ of their neighbourhood. With the help of council officers, together with a small amount of funding that had been awarded to each councillor with a view to doing something for their area, I set in motion the formation of a local forum. The stipulation from the start was that councillors could not chair it or be on any committee where a vote was needed. It must be apolitical. The forum was started and it has gone from strength to strength. I make sure I keep in touch with the chair and feedback any information needed. I often join in litter picking events and planting events. The forum has adopted the local station which is awaiting a refurbishment. No doubt you will see us there tending flower beds and baskets at some time. Through the forum, I am also on the committee looking into honouring a local heroine – Dame Caroline Hazlet – who was the first female electrical engineer and was responsible for creating the tree pin plug I believe.
I have also been invited to be a Guiding Ambassador. I don’t appear to do much for this role but I am always happy to promote the guides when I can. I attend functions when invited and when able. I do feel it is important to have such an association for girls. I would love to see more girls from ethnic minorities join and participate. Sadly there is a waiting list as leaders are difficult to find.
I have also been active in encouraging the formation of a Conservation Area in the older part of Three Bridges where the original railway houses were built. Together with the residents, we are trying to enlarge the area to include other roads of historical interest.
Now that the Conservative Group is in opposition, I am the Shadow Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Community Engagement. It is large and varied portfolio and allows me to meet with a wide variety of people. It involves me with issues and possible growing concerns throughout Crawley. I am also involved with Interfaith, but yet again I cannot always get to the meetings.
I am an active member of the Licencing Committee and have, at one time, chaired it. I have in my time, also been a member of the Planning Committee and the Overview and Scrutiny Commission.
I have encouraged a community art project involving four local primary schools and one local secondary school. Network Rail funded the project and recommended the artist. The project involved creating a huge mural for their bridge at Three Bridges Station, which is due for renovation very soon. From the pictures created by their participating pupils, the four local primary schools submitted four pictures to the artist, who selected one from each school. These he merged into one picture which he painted on the bridge. Somehow he managed to keep the style of the children’s pictures. Everyone has commented how good it is. I am now trying to find funding for the other side of the bridge. The secondary school submitted pictures for the station Subway.
Recently I fought a local County Council by-election and polled over half of the votes so I am now attending West Sussex County Council. I attended my first Group Meeting on Monday. I find I have arrived at a very interesting time as a new leader has been elected. My first experience was that every area in West Sussex appears to be suffering the same problems. The one annoying residents at the moment is the problem of weeds.
I have been Parish Warden until the Parishes split last year. I now serve on the PCC of the local Church. Also on the first Tuesday of the month, my two fellow borough councillors and I meet up with residents at a local café where we hold a surgery.
On the political side, I formed a local Women’s Conservative Group which although small, is very active. We have a strong role in raising much of the funds for the party. I chaired it for a while but find my preferred role is more one of encouraging and ‘leading’ from behind. I do not expect anyone to do something that I would not do. I do of course play my part in delivering leaflets etc. I support my colleagues whenever and however I can. On a personal level, my husband and I have lived in Crawley for 50 years having moved here because Bob, my husband, as a teacher was classed as a Key Worker. This year we celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary. We have two grown up children, one of whom is married with two delightful children of his own – our gorgeous grandchildren who play a large and active part in our life.