A year like no other: virtual meetings have been brilliant, says Kettering councillor

It's one year since we first went into lockdown

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:18 pm
A recent Kettering Council meeting.

Jim Hakewill has seen it all in his political career.

He's now into his 36th year in politics, having previously been both the mayor and leader of Kettering Council as well as representing the Rothwell and Mawsley ward on Northamptonshire County Council.

He's also quit the local Conservative group, and unsuccessfully attempted to unseat Philip Hollobone at the 2019 general election, coming in at fourth as an Independent.

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But in the decades he's spent in local politics, he's not seen anything like the year we've all experienced.

Today (March 23) marks exactly one year since the nation first went into lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms and more all closed - and so did council chambers. It's been a long time since a chamber was packed with members of the public, with meetings now held online.

Cllr Hakewill, who is standing in May's north Northamptonshire unitary elections, said: "I think it's been brilliant how councils and residents have changed to using Zoom for virtual meetings.

"I hope that in future there might be the chance to use in-person meetings as well as Zoom because for many people it's easier than going along to the offices to speak.

"I have missed in-person contact but obviously that has helped to protect us all from Covid-19."

Cllr Hakewill added that future online meetings may also prove useful if councillors want to hear from an expert elsewhere in the country or even elsewhere in the world.

And they've also made council meetings more accessible for members of the public, with proceedings streamed on YouTube and full videos then posted online afterwards.

A full council meeting last month has been streamed more than 160 times - a number of people very rarely seen at Kettering's Bowling Green Road base.

And one debate elsewhere in England went viral earlier this year after a Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting descended into chaos - with meeting host Jackie Weaver becoming an overnight internet sensation.