Leyland mums go from park campaign to political futures

Posted on - 13th May, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Leyland, Politics, Preston News, South Ribble News
Cllrs Nicky Peet and Jo Hindle-Taylor elected to St Ambrose ward Pic: BBC LDRS

In the run up to the last local elections in South Ribble in 2019, friends Jo Hindle-Taylor and Nicky Peet were two Leyland mums lobbying the district council to protect a local park enjoyed by their young children.

Fast forward four years and the pair have just been elected to the self same authority – inspired by how politics and politicians helped them to achieve their aim.

Their journey from campaigners to councillors began four-and-a half years ago when they were alarmed to receive a letter from South Ribble Borough Council which floated the idea that the playground and park on Bent Lane – an area known locally as Strawberry Valley – could be used as a plot on which to build affordable housing.

Read more: Leyland store fined for selling e-cigarette to 13-year-old

The then Conservative-controlled authority launched a public consultation into the future of several open spaces as part of a wider plan to forge better green links across the area.

The outcome of that survey did not emerge before the May 2019 elections – at which Labour seized control of the council and committed to preserving the Bent Lane facility and upgrading it within its planned programme of playground refurbishments. At the time, the children’s play area boasted a single, solitary tyre swing.

After delays caused by decontamination work, the revamped park was finally reopened in March 2022 – and officially given the Strawberry Valley moniker by which locals had always known it.

Strawberry Valley play area reopened

The success of the campaign they led – which not only saw the green space secured, but also transformed – prompted Jo and Nicky to mount a joint bid to seek seats on the council themselves, in the hope of making a similar difference to the lives of other locals as their councillors had made to theirs.

After both were victorious in last week’s borough elections, they now represent the St. Ambrose ward, taking over from Labour’s Sue Jones, who has stepped down from the authority, and Kath Unsworth, who contested and won the Broadfield ward this time round.

The now former Cllr Jones previously held St. Ambrose with her husband Ken, until he passed away in 2020. The two backed Jo and Nicky’s efforts to ensure Strawberry Valley remained a place in which to run around or relax for future generations of Leylanders. As cabinet member for the environment for some of Labour’s last four years in control, Sue Jones also oversaw the park’s £175,000 facelift.

Read more: South Ribble Borough Council respond after car parking sign confusion

Nicky and Jo – who each have two daughters – say that the result they helped bring about for Strawberry Valley opened their eyes to the power of local politics.

“People say, ‘Oh, I don’t do politics’ or ‘I never vote’. But what happened to us shows exactly how important politics is and how it taps into absolutely everything in your life – so why wouldn’t you [take an interest]?” asked the now Cllr Peet.

“I don’t think we realised how much local politics plays a part in the community – it’s been a massive eye-opener. People say, ‘The council does [this or that]’ – but it can be a very different council depending on who you vote for.”

Read more: South Ribble Borough Council local elections 2023 sees Labour take control

Jo – whose then six-year old daughter Isabel made her feelings known about the future of Strawberry Valley when she attended a 2019 council consultation event with her mum – said that she did not necessarily trust politicians to be true to their word when Labour first made pledges about the park ahead of the last election four years ago.

“At first, we were [dubious],” the newly-titled Cllr Hindle-Taylor admits.

“But they were very genuine and just a good bunch, so that’s why we ended up wanting to be a part of it.”

It seems that political ambition would never have crossed their minds were it not for experiencing the practical reality of engaging with the democratic process – and how doing so can have the kind of impact that councillors of all political colours would no doubt say they are striving to achieve for their residents.

To that end, Jo’s message to St. Ambrose residents with local concerns – or thinking about mounting a campaign like the one she and Nicky fronted – is simple: talk to us.

“We would definitely be supportive and help as much as possible,” she pledged.

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