Long-serving Northamptonshire councillor brings curtain down on 46 years of service
'I used to tell people that I didn’t have surgeries and that I would hold one wherever I saw somebody whether it was in Tesco or in the pub.'
When Caryl Billingham went along to a local council meeting in Brackley she could never have imagined it would lead to serving more than 45 years as a councillor herself.
Caryl, who was awarded an MBE in 2016, recently stepped down as a district councillor for South Northamptonshire District Council bringing an end to a fascinating journey in local politics that started way back in 1975.
She first joined Brackley Town Council in 1975 and served until 2012 during which time she elected as the Mayor of Brackley on four occassions.
In 1990, she became a district councillor for South Northamptonshire District Council and stayed until it was dissolved ahead of the new unitary authorities starting on April 1 this year.
“I think I enjoyed most of it, if not all of it quite honestly.” she said.
“Through being on the town council I became involved in quite a lot of local organisations and that’s continued.
“I firmly believe that party politics should not be involved in local government so I always stood as an independent for the district council.
“So I was, I think, possibly elected partly because of who I was and partly because people knew who my parents were.
“I used to tell people that I didn’t have surgeries and that I would hold one wherever I saw somebody whether it was in Tesco or in the pub.”
In 1990, Caryl decided to stand for the district council.
She added: “I think I felt that I’d done enough years on the town council to make a reasonable contribution on behalf of Brackley to the district council.
“Yes it seemed like a logical progression but I don’t think I would ever have moved onto county council for example as I’ve always considered that to be much more political and that was one of the main reasons I didn’t stand for the unitary.”
Caryl decided against standing for the new unitary authority.
“I felt that Brackley has grown exponentially and I didn’t think that little old me could cover the whole town and do it justice quite frankly,” she continued.
“I think you need a bit of a party machine behind you although Sue Sharps was elected and she was an independent.
“And I think I was a little bit daunted if I am honest about the thought of having to take on new topics I suppose really.”
Caryl still has plenty to keep her busy as she is the president of Brackley Cricket Club, chairman of the Brackley United Feoffe Charity and set up the charity for the new community hospital.
In 2016, Caryl was awarded an MBE for her services to the community in her home town.
So what advice would she give now to anyone interested in becoming a councillor?
“Don’t lose heart and also be open,” she said. “Because you usually stand for a local authority because you have a bee in your bonnet about something.
“I think very few people stand for purely altruistic reasons although the reasons may become more altruistic as time goes by.
“I had a bee in my bonnet and I went to an open meeting and one of the councillors said; ‘well you ought to come and join us.'”