This is the first of my Q&As with one of Colchester’s finest.
Over the next few weeks and in the run-up to Election Day itself, I hope to introduce to you a whole plethora of those who want your vote.
You’ll get to find out what they think. You’ll get to see whether they are real people just like you! You’ll get your chance to leave comments and ask questions.
This is what true democracy is about – the demos (us) having control. From 140 characters on Twitter to a seat on the Council is a very possible step for a number of people on 5th May.
This SPECIAL FIRST COLLECTOR’S EDITION features Simon Crow, Conservative Candidate for New Town & Christ Church who was the one that inspired me to start this project in the first place! So you can blame him 😉
Simon says: “I spent the first few years of my life in Toronto, Canada where my family moved when I was a few months old. We returned to the UK when I was 7 and settled in Colchester for the same reason that many still do today, it was the nearest town to London that my parents could afford a house in so my dad could commute into the capital. I have been here ever since, so having lived here almost all my life I’m proud to call myself a Colchester boy through and through. I’m currently living in the Castle Ward where I also lived for most of my years at St Helena school, and during two years at the Colchester Institute studying A Levels in History and Economics. I have also lived in New Town, Eight Ash Green, Great Tey and Wivenhoe over the years, so have experienced first-hand the diversity of this town and its different areas. I am very pleased to have brought up my own two daughters in my home town and to see them now pursuing their own ambitions in Colchester. Jessica (20) loves her job at a local care home working as a carer for adults with mental and physical disabilities, and Victoria (18) is studying drama and theatre at Essex University and enjoying student life to the max! I spent several of their childhood years bringing them up as a single dad, so have experienced the challenges this puts in front of single parent families, and it gives me added pride to see how they have grown into young adults.
I think Colchester is a fantastic town that is so rich in history, and I consider myself, and my children, lucky to have grown up and live here.”
Colcestrian: Simple one to get going – what’s your full name and what do you like to known as?
Simon: Simon Crow. Simon will do for me. Si at a push if I like you.
Colcestrian: What do you like most about the Ward you are standing for, and what made you want to stand this time?
Simon: I bought my first house in Barrington Road in New Town when I was 20, and my eldest daughter Jessica was born while her mother and I lived there, so that area of the ward holds many fond memories for me. As I’m something of a local history buff the fact that those houses have stood there for so long and through so much history, including two World Wars, fascinates me. Those modest Victorian homes really could tell thousands of stories. So many generations of children have been brought up in the area, some have moved on to other areas or left the town forever, whilst there are some who are still living in the same streets they grew up in.
Then adjoining it you have the new estate along Robert’s Road in the old Hyderabad Barracks which reminds me of a 21st century version of the old New Town, brimming as it is with young couples and families just setting out in life, many of whom have bought their first home there like I once did in the ward. Talking to people on their doorsteps there is already a great sense of community developing in some of the streets.
Further to the west you have the Christ Church area of the ward with its lovely family homes just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre. Together these three distinct areas represent every stage of the family life cycle, from young couples bringing their children into the world right through to people enjoying their retirement, all with different needs and problems, and it is this diversity that that I like so much.
I decided to stand because the town I love has changed in many ways over the years, in many ways for the better, but it also seems to have stagnated and got caught in the past. I remember when the Lion Walk precinct was built and Marks & Spencer extended their store as part of the development. For a few years it was the company’s ‘flagship’ store. People came from miles around, Ipswich, Chelmsford and beyond to shop in our town, but these days people leave Colchester to shop in those places. We just haven’t kept up with the times, and the rejection of Tollgate Village was the final straw for me.
As a local history buff it also pains me to see how little we seem to do to bring tourists to our town. We are the oldest recorded town in England and the original Roman capital, with a rich and unique history, yet we seem seemingly just rely on the castle to ‘bring ‘em in’. We need to do more. Much more.
For a couple of years I spent many of my weekends in Chelmsford and quickly became aware of how that town (now a city) with a fraction of the history and heritage of Colchester has managed to make the most of what it has got. There is a buzz about the place, and people there are aware of that buzz and talk about it. Chelmsford attracts inward investment in a way that Colchester fails to, and of course people are flocking there to shop. When I mentioned to one of my Ward councillors in a Twitter conversation a few months ago that we should be looking down the A12 for inspiration I was told “If you like it there so much why don’t you go and live there.” This seemed to sum up our current council… if you don’t like what we are doing then clear off, and was the moment I started giving some thought serious thought to standing. The rest as they say, after Tollgate Village, is history.
Colcestrian: If you don’t live in the Ward you’re standing for, why did you choose that Ward rather than your own?
Simon: Castle Ward where I live had already had candidates by the time I came along so I was offered New Town and Christ Church. I was very pleased to accept it as living an adjoining ward on the edge of the town centre we share some of same problems, and as I talked about above I lived in and am familiar with New Town, now part of the New Town and Christ Church ward.
Colcestrian: What political party are you aligned with, if any, and why?
Simon: I am standing for the Conservative Party. This has surprised a few of my friends as I’ve never been very political but I do care passionately about this town and I believe its residents will be best served by a Conservative council after May 5th. Deciding to stand was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make, but when I read the Conservative manifesto the decision was made for me.
Colcestrian: Do you think your political party’s actions at a national level will have an effect on you locally?
Simon: Unfortunately I think that is inevitable to some extent. But voters are not stupid and I believe they will ultimately make their decisions based on who they believe will be best for this town, not what is going on in Westminster.
Colcestrian: Everyone needs a break – what are your favourite hobbies?
Simon: I’m a lifelong Colchester United fan and stood on the Barside at Layer Road for many years. I don’t get to matches as often as I would like these days but I live the team’s highs and lows nevertheless. It’s not uncommon for me embarrass my friends whilst in a shop on a Saturday afternoon when the U’s are playing away with a loud “YES!” when I’ve checked my phone and seen they’ve scored. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened too often in more recent seasons.
I enjoy writing and publish the Colchester 101 blog www.colchester101.co.uk for which I write articles about subjects that interest me and invite guest writers to contribute too. I used to publish Colchester 101 as a magazine but it was a marathon effort every month to get it ready for the printers then distribute the printed copies, which distracted me from my business, so I very reluctantly had to give it up. The blog works great though as I can fit it around work and whatever else is going on in my life.
And an unexpected one for you. I’m a huge NASCAR fan, the American motorsport where they race stock cars around banked ovals at speeds of up to 200mph. I have actually travelled to the US for a couple of races in Dallas, Texas, and in 2012 on a trip to Atlanta I did the ‘ride along’ experience and was driven round the Atlanta Motor Speedway at 170mph. It was the single most exhilarating experience of my life and my nervous laughter began as we accelerated out of pit lane, hit its peak as we raced along just a foot from the outer wall, and was still going strong an hour later over beers and lunch back in the city.
Colcestrian: When not doing politics, what does your day usually consist of?
Simon: I run my own business, a marketing and design agency called Media48 www.media48.co.uk where I essentially fulfill an Account Manager/Director’s role, so my days involve working with and advising our customers on their projects and briefing our creatives and suppliers to ensure the customers get what they want, get it on time, and on budget. I also run the Evolution business networking events for local businesses. When I get home in the evening I like to unwind with a copy of the Colchester Gazette and a cup of tea before doing anything else. Although the television always seems to be on I don’t pay it much attention and will often be working on my laptop or catching up on social media, the news and current affairs on my iPad… unless The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones is on in which case the television will get my FULL attention.
Colcestrian: How do you feel Colchester Borough Council currently performs for Colchester?
Simon: I think the current council has been selling the town short and Colchester deserves better. Examples include the ongoing stagnation of the town centre with no real vision for how to address it, the bus station that isn’t a bus station, the failure to deliver Vineyard Gate, the anti-car stance and expensive car parking, and most recently of all the rejection of the Tollgate Village plans. One of the things I keep hearing on doorsteps during this campaign is “I don’t go into the town to shop… I go to Chelmsford or Ipswich.”
I believe that throwing out the Tollgate Village plans did a dreadful disservice to the town and its residents, but it is only one of many which also includes failing to give the town’s annual Free Festival in Castle Park the support it needs, leaving the organisers feeling they had no option but to cancel this year’s event. Similarly I don’t know what they expect residents will think when they see that £30,000 has been spent on a study to see what to do with the old Jacks shop on St Nicholas Street, and that £5,000 has been spent on a study about the Welcome to Colchester signs on the approaches to our town.
I feel this current council has become self-serving and out of touch and it is time for a change.
Colcestrian: What is the best thing about Colchester and what one thing would you change tomorrow about Colchester if you could?
Simon: That’s easy. Castle Park. What a truly beautiful place the park is to have gracing our town, and with a castle thrown in for good measure! And also a venue that plays host to so many events during the year.
What I would change if I could wave a magic wand would be the town’s traffic problems.
Colcestrian: Who are your heroes?
Simon: My two biggest heroes are my mother and my late stepfather. My mother is a retired Senior Probation Officer who worked for many years in Clacton and then Colchester with a particular interest in child welfare matters, before spending her final few years before retirement working at Highpoint Prison in Suffolk. She once told me she got the most satisfaction from working with the toughest cases and making a positive difference to their lives. A couple of years ago a friend of mine realised who my mother was when he added her on Facebook, and he told me that she was single-handedly responsible for helping him turn his life around when he was a teenager and that without her his life would have been turned out very different. What a wonderful compliment.
My stepfather Mike as an amazing and inspirational man with a passion for social fairness who spent his life helping others. Before we sadly lost him to kidney disease three years ago he had even been working with, and advising, the United Nations and the US Secretary of State. A staunch socialist, during my childhood we had many, many conversations about politics and society.
Lastly, punk poet John Cooper Clarke, the ‘Bard of Salford’ who found fame opening for bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash. I was a huge fan of him as a kid and couldn’t believe it when he moved to Colchester, where he still lives. I have since been lucky enough to meet him several times, in fact he was on the cover and interviewed in
the very first edition of Colchester 101, and I’ve found him to be an incredibly funny and knowledgeable man with a unique take on the world.
Colcestrian: What would you do to promote disabled rights if you are a Councillor after the election?
Simon: A recent blog post by a Twitter user known as @ColonelCamulos really opened my eyes, and the eyes of others I have spoken to, about the lack of disabled access and facilities in Colchester. If I am elected this is something that I would want to address and use my influence to make positive steps forward. The current situation is simply not acceptable.
Colcestrian: What would you do for women’s rights in the town once election day is passed?
Simon: I believe we are all equal, and when I employ a woman in my business it just wouldn’t cross my mind to pay them less or treat them any different to men. Why would I? I apply this to all aspects of my life and I am a staunch believer in legal and social equality for all and would challenge inequality wherever I find it.
Colcestrian: What is your view on the spread of fines for the rough sleeping and homeless?
Simon: Fining the homeless is not the solution. Many of us are just a few pay cheques away from having no home, but most of us can hope to fall back on the generosity of family and friends if the very worst should happen. Sadly some cannot, and others find themselves sleeping rough for many reasons such as addiction, mental health or abuse issues, relationship breakdowns, long term unemployment and many others. A caring society supports those who have reached their personal rock bottom and helps them to pick themselves up again.
Colcestrian: Do you think the ‘Living Wage’ is truly a living wage?
Simon: That must really depend on your circumstances and where you live. What is a living wage for one may not be for another. I’m pleased though that the philosophy of a living wage receives cross-party support as I believe it is the duty of society to try to ensure that all are paid fairly. Sadly, society cannot be relied upon to always do that so pressure has to come from government.
Colcestrian: Are you happy to keep promoting Colchester as a welcoming place for refugees?
Simon: We must accept our share of the blame for the horrific situation in the Middle East. How much of that blame belongs on our doorstep depends on your personal point of view, but with that blame, and as a civilised society, comes a duty of care to the innocent victims. Colchester has been doing its bit to help and I would want to see that continue.
Colcestrian: What is the biggest problem in the Ward you are standing in?
Simon: The ward is so big, and so diverse, that is an impossible question to answer. Christ Church is so different from New Town, the problems faced by residents in the ‘ladder roads’ between Maldon Road and Butt Road (Hamilton Road, Errington Road etc) are often different from those living in the streets off Roberts Road, and different again from those in old New Town. Each area of the ward has its own distinct identity, so Cllr Annesley Hardy, fellow candidate Ben Payne and myself are listening carefully to people on their doorsteps to learn about the issues that affect them. Someone near Roberts Road who has moved here from Ilford or Romford may praise their adopted town and new neighbourhood to the skies but be concerned about what is to become of the planned children’s play area around the corner. A few streets away in old New Town anti-social behaviour and expensive town centre parking are key issues, whilst in the ladder roads speeding vehicles using their streets as a short cut gets some people’s blood boiling.
Colcestrian: Which green and ecologically-wise policies do you think Colchester borough should instigate?
Simon: A big issue affecting the town is our traffic problems, with more and more new homes being built causing our local road networking to crack under the strain. All those vehicles sitting in stationery traffic are pumping pollutants into the air that we breathe. As much as we might try we can’t get everyone to leave their cars at home, but by getting the traffic moving we will go a long way towards addressing the problem. I’d also like to see more electric car charging points around the borough in an effort to make switching to electric a more appealing option.
Colcestrian: Tollgate Village, Northern Gateway… views?
Simon: Yes to both. And Vineyard Gate too. Colchester has fallen behind our neighbours in recent years and too many people jump in their cars and head off to Ipswich and Chelmsford for shopping and leisure, not to mention further afield at Lakeside, Bluewater and Stratford’s Westfield. By breathing life back into our town centre with a revisit of the Vineyard Gate plans, combined with the Northern Gateway and Tollgate Village developments, we can make Colchester a major regional shopping and leisure destination, drawing people from across East Anglia. Without joined up thinking like this the town will continue to stagnate and be the signpost on the A12 that people ignore on their way past to Ipswich and Chelmsford.
Colcestrian: Do you think our current government and electoral system is fit for purpose?
Simon: It’s the only system we’ve got and I don’t see it changing anytime soon so we have to make the best of it.
Colcestrian: Are you having second thoughts?
Simon: I’m terrified of what happens next if I win a seat! But no, I’m not having any second thoughts.
And there you have it! I begin my quest to bring to you a sizable cross-section of the Candidates standing for your votes in Wards across Colchester Borough. I hope you enjoyed this Q&A as much as I did and I hope that you share with friends and family, on social media, email, etc to get the stories out there before Election Day.
If you are a Candidate and want to take part in The Colcestrian’s Colchester Candidate Q&A, but haven’t already been contacted by me, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org – I might just feature you too!