Making a difference in the community

PICTURESQUE ponds, thatched cottages and cricket on the green sum up the idyllic country life. But the reality isn t always as perfect as the dream and villagers can find themselves moaning about a problem or something they d like sorted out. They may not

PICTURESQUE ponds, thatched cottages and cricket on the green sum up the idyllic country life.

But the reality isn't always as perfect as the dream and villagers can find themselves moaning about a problem or something they'd like sorted out.

They may not realise it but there is something positive they can do to change things - join the parish council.

Carina Helmn, parish clerk at Kimpton, is also county officer for the Hertfordshire Association of Parish and Town Councils and was clerk of the year in 2004. She loves being close to the community where she lives and seeing the benefits of an active parish council.

"It really is getting involved," she said.

"The parish council can support the community and provide a service and facilities. You raise money in your parish for services within your parish."

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People become parish councillors for a variety of reasons, perhaps to improve the environment, keep green spaces and preserve the character of their village.

"Others are doers," said Carina.

"There are not enough youth facilities so they want to set up a youth club. The parish council is a structure in which you can do that and you have the ability to raise money for it."

In parishes democracy really is close to the people.

"Money is raised within the parish and delivered in the parish in direct services to the people. It's tangible," said Carina.

Parish councils have limited duties but enjoy extensive legal powers enabling them to get involved with a wide range of community matters. They cannot make decisions on planning applications although they are asked to make comments - but they can have a strong influence as the voice of the community.

"We work closely with North Hertfordshire District Council," said Carina who also liaises with Herts County Council, the police and other organisations such as the health authority.

She discusses all issues with parish council chairman Chris Baker, who first stood for election when he retired four years ago from a career in marketing and engineering.

"I'd been involved with Kimpton in various ways and I felt comfortable being part of the parish council," he said.

"It's a conduit for a lot of the residents to take issues to the district and county councils. You work with the clerk to ensure you can get the right grants for your projects.

"In a small way you are putting something back. Most of the time it is very satisfying and you do make a contribution."

Some of the achievements are low key but they make a real difference to residents. One example Chris recalls is persuading Herts County Council to install lighting in a area where the elderly were scared to walk in the dark.

"Carina has been involved with our youth club and she found funding for them and now they have got a newly refurbished youth club," said Chris.

"It has made a significant difference.

"We have a very well maintained network of footpaths round the village. There are lots of little things you can make a contribution to."

Philip Crowe, chairman of Ickleford Parish Council, has found the same thing.

"You can contribute to the running of village activities and see what you can do to help," he said.

The councils get support from statutory bodies such as North Hertfordshire District Council and administration and advice from their clerk, who is paid - the councillors are voluntary.

"We have got an excellent relationship with the officers at NHDC and the county council and with district councillor Tricia Gibbs and county councillor Nigel Brooks," said Philip.

"We all work as a team. I enjoy it - it's like everything, you get out of it what you put in."

Although most parish councils are not holding elections in May this year many have vacancies and may be able to co-opt new members.

To find out the situation in your parish talk to your parish clerk or one of the councillors or contact the Hertfordshire Association of Town and Parish Councils on 01442 235317 or

All you need is a little spare time, an interest in where you live and the desire to make it even better.

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