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Blogpost: Colleen Morrison: My life as a Netteswell councillor

General / Mon 12th Sep 2022 am30 08:12am

WE have asked a number of back bench councillors to give us their view from their seat at the back.

Whilst others at the front make the speeches and big decisions, it is often the back benchers who work under the radar.

This month, we asked Netteswell councillor, Colleen Morrison to tell us about her life before she became a councillor and the last eighteen months as a civic representative.

MY family were one of thousands of Harlow’s pioneer families who were fortunate to be allocated Development Corporation homes (which later became council homes) in Harlow during the1950s. I was a baby when we moved to a flat in The Dashes from Walthamstow, then to a flat in Broadfield and eventually to a house in Halling Hill. After we married, my husband and I lived in his bedsit in Altham Grove. So I lived in Netteswell for many years.

My father was a commercial artist and art therapist who helped servicemen/women who’d been severely injured during WW2 to overcome the physical and psychological trauma of severe disability. He was a lovely dad but he was useless with money, he loaned money to an army pal which wasn’t repaid, which meant we couldn’t pay for the lease on our home and dad’s studio and we were evicted. Being broke during the post war housing shortage in Walthamstow meant living crowded into my grandparents’ home for a year.

So, when my parents were offered a new home, and my dad a job, in Harlow New Town, they jumped at the chance. Thanks to Sir Freddy Gibberd, Harlow’s brilliant master planner, Harlow became a beautiful, modern new town in the countryside: a green paradise, full of woods, meadows and streams, where my brother and I and other child pioneers ran around like little wild things. Most of the pioneer kids were poor but extraordinarily healthy. Our parents were so proud of Harlow.

Harlow has given me so much, a happy, healthy childhood, a good education and jobs I love, so I try to give back to the community in Harlow. I worked for the Welfare Rights’ Service at Harlow Advice Centre and volunteered for the service for years after I left and campaigned with Hands Off Our Park! (HOOP!) to stop development of 32 acres of the town park. I was co-organiser of Harlow’s branch of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign, which played a key role in stopping the 2nd runway which would have badly damaged the quality of life of the people of Harlow.

It was heart breaking for me to see how neglected and run down Harlow has become in recent decades, issues which became worse during the Pandemic and lockdowns, due to the furlough of many maintenance and landscape staff.

This is why I stood for election for Netteswell: to help restore Netteswell and our town and its many neighbourhoods.

When the Conservatives took control of Harlow council, we found a huge post-lockdown backlog of outstanding repairs and unmaintained landscaping awaiting us. It took us many months of hard work to improve this. Once elected, I began inspecting Netteswell and reporting its many problems and visiting residents there to apologise for the maintenance and landscaping backlog.

Cllr Russell Perrin, Harlow’s brilliant Council Leader, made me Harlow Estates’ Champion, which meant auditing all of Harlow’s neighbourhoods, sending Russell detailed reports of the state of the street scene of each of these and meetings with Russell regarding inspection findings, particular issues and the order in which restoration work could be done. I’ve audited over 380 neighbourhoods to date. I had to stop auditing for a time to work as a member of our campaign team for 2 elections this year and one of my close family was sadly diagnosed with a serious illness this year too, all of which made it hard for me to focus on council work for a short time. However, I was way ahead thanks to auditing throughout Xmas holidays, evenings after work and weekends and I’m now working as normal and auditing again.

Some of the problems my audits found: Leaking roofs awaiting repairs for months, neighbourhoods colonised by brambles and engulfed by 2 metre high weeds ~ ivy engulfing many flats’ windows and blocking light ~ countless pot holes ~ badly neglected gardens of corner unit flats ~ fly tipping all around Harlow ~ countless algae damaged street signs, number boards, house fronts, facia boards, knee rails ~ numerous garages unpainted and unmaintained for years. Hard working Portfolio Holders, including Cllr Alastair Gunn, Cllr Nicky Purse, Cllr Simon Carter and Cllr Michael Garnett and council officers are working so hard to resolve such issues.

Cllr Dan Swords, our remarkably talented Deputy Council Leader and Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, has told me that he will use my audit findings for the restoration of existing neighbourhoods. I am so proud of that.

I’m a working councillor, my son and I have a small business which, among other things, transports food and essential goods to Harlow supermarkets’ warehouses. We and our hard working staff worked throughout the lockdowns.

I’m deputy chair of the Audit and Standards Committee and a member of the Scrutiny Committee, which means reading through agendas and notes of 80+ and 40+ pages respectively, plus related documents and researching Committee related issues: a lot work, but it’s important to contribute to these committees. I’m also a member of the Parking Steering Group, where I try to stand up for car, van and HGV delivery drivers and for parking spaces to be more ecologically sustainable, heat mitigating and carbon zero supporting, reinforced green spaces.

Working as a councillor is hard work, it requires dedication and leaves little time for personal life: but it’s work that is so worthwhile: I love doing it. I would encourage any one in Harlow who wants to work for the community and to make a difference to our town to consider doing this.

I’m a deaf councillor. I was partially deafened by measles when I was c 4 years old, however, I was fortunate to be born with normal hearing, so my speech is good. By the age of 16, my hearing had deteriorated to the point where I had to wear two hearing aids. I lip read, which helps, but only 40% of speech can be read on the lips. I can’t hear speech without hearing aids. However, like many children with disabilities, I quickly adapted and I cope well with my deafness. I use a speech to text program in the chamber and in other meetings. I can’t use a telephone, so I instead use text and I visit residents who request my help.

Kind regards,

Cllr Colleen Morrison

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9 Comments for Blogpost: Colleen Morrison: My life as a Netteswell councillor:

David Forman
2022-09-12 10:24:53

A remarkable woman who refused to let disability defeat her ambitions. I've met many people who remember and appreciate Colleen's work on the HOOP campaign. But so true is her statement about the estates when she says: "neighbourhoods colonised by brambles and engulfed by 2 metre high weeds ~ ivy engulfing many flats’ windows and blocking light." All of this down to the last Labour administration who became obsessed with woke politics from Autumn 2018 onwards.

Mike
2022-09-12 16:33:24

Colleen is an excellent representative for the residents of Netteswell. She works tenaciously and has done much to improve the mess and neglect of the previous Labour administration. She still knows there is much work to do. Netteswell is fortunate to have such a dedicated and hard working councillor.

Voteforme
2022-09-12 18:09:20

This sounds very positive from an impressive lady. However, she mentions pot holes-isn't this a failure of the Conservative Essex county council. And, can't residents get outside with a pair of shears to cut down weeds. Ironically, I recently took up an issue with the council about the lack of maintenance of land adjacent to my property. A neighbour had previously been reprimanded by the council (under labour) for working on it

Dianne
2022-09-12 22:54:38

Voteforme, the land maintenance backlog was the down to HTS (set up as a Busman’s holiday by the former Labour administration) and the previous Labour Council who let HTS external workers all go on furlough even though other more efficient council’s continued outside environmental work, socially distanced. HTS and Labour are never accountable, they just spend Council taxpayer money. They don’t care.

Voteforme
2022-09-13 08:56:58

Dianne, I appreciate you replying to me although I don't really know why you did so-are you saying that the pot holes aren't down to the ECC and that tenants don't have the ability to do a bit of gardening?

Cllr Colleen Morrison
2022-09-13 09:58:40

Thank you so much David Forman. Mike and Voteform for your kind words. I do my best, but I often feel that it's not good enough because there is so much that needs to be done to improve Harlow. I'm working as hard as I can to help councillors Russell Perrin, Dan Swords, our portfolio holders and council officers to make Harlow a town we can be proud of again. Voteform: if you would like to tell me where the issue you're experiencing is, I will inspect and report it.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-09-15 10:27:41

Sixteen months in and despite claims that Harlow will be the best town in Britain and our Town Centre the best in Essex there is little if any evidence that any improvements have been made either in the towns housing estates or the town centre. A visit today to Hookfield to look at the flower bed I stood in front of when interviewed by yourharlow back last April shows it, like the rest across has received little if any attention to remove weeds etc which are higher than the flowers. Just what were HTS doing during the long hot summer when grass cutting was not needed? Staff should have been out and about tidying up all the shrub beds around the town. What about trees, well still many homes are overshadowed by huge trees close to the home and finally what about grass being cut around broken traffic signs on roundabouts and verges. I am afraid that whilst we have a Council who spend so much time writing reports hundreds of pages long and never actually getting anything done, residents will never be able to take pride in their estates.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-09-15 12:43:52

Typo on previous post, should have said "across the rest of the town". A resident asked Nicky Purse the Portfolio Holder at the last Full Council meeting about the poor state of areas within Greenhills The response received was more or less that Greenhills is no worse than anywhere else in the town. She was right, every estate is in a very poor state. A trip to towns like Hoddesdon, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and even Ongar shows that this town looks far worse than even ones close by, let alone in the rest of the UK.

Tom
2022-09-17 09:26:52

Nicholas Taylor is absolutely right. The state of housing repairs and environmental maintenance is shameful. Labour set up HTS to manage this. It is a complete failure and huge waste of public money.

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