Andrew Thomas speaks to the new clerk of Kendal Town Council Chris Bagshaw about the importance of grass roots democracy and the council’s upcoming priorities.

New clerk Chris Bagshaw believes passionately in the role Kendal Town Council plays in ensuring decisions made about the community reflect what local people want.

“Our duty is to the people of Kendal,” said Mr Bagshaw, who has been town clerk for around two months. “We start from the view that the town belongs to the people who live in the town and decisions made should reflect their views.”

He said the goal of the town council involved what is known as ‘place shaping’ and, to that end, one of the council’s most important roles is being a statutory consultee for planning applications.

“Every planning application that is made in the civil parish of Kendal comes across the desk of our planning committee. Even though we don’t make the final decision we are the only organisation that comments on every single application.

“At a recent meeting we looked at everything from a single storey extension to replace a conservatory to the creation of 89 dwellings at Brigsteer Road.”

The town council has many others roles, including looking after 14 separate allotment sites, with more than 400 tenants; putting up the Christmas lights; organising Remembrance commemorations and creating the floral displays around the town.

“We also support a wide range of organisations in the town financially and with working time, from Kendal Futures to small charities and groups we support with grants, such as scouts and guides groups and the Boys Brigade. We also give grant aid to various festivals, including the Kendal Mountain Festival.”

Most local authority funding comes through Council Tax with Kendal Town Council one of those precepting bodies which requires South Lakeland District Council to collect money on its behalf. Last year the town council collected about £450,000 in Council Tax to pay for its services – a household in a Band D property will pay the town council around £50-£60 annually.

Mr Bagshaw said he was always impressed by the pride people felt in their town and the importance they attached to its municipal history and traditions, including its mayoralty. “The town council is the vehicle for the expression of that pride. The town council retains the mayoralty and we have the ceremonial sword and two maces and other objects in the mayor’s parlour.”

Mr Bagshaw, who was born in Ilkley, studied social and political science at Sheffield University before working as an excursion leader for the Countrywide Holidays Association and then as a walking operations executive for Holiday Fellowship Holidays. It was while designing a brochure for the latter that he became fascinated by the printing process and he went on to do a post graduate diploma in publishing as West Herts College at Watford.

Later he worked for the travel publishing section of the AA before moving to Kirkoswald and starting a business commissioning and managing travel publishing books.

He then became a parish development officer for the Cumbria Association of Local Councils, before becoming town clerk of Workington. “I was interested in the town clerk job at Kendal because Kendal is the largest town in Cumbria with its own town council and because Kendal is such a lovely town,” he said.

The town clerk role involves making sure town council meetings take place and are legally compliant and managing eight staff.

So what are the council’s top priorities?

“The town council has declared a climate emergency and set up and largely funded the Kendal Climate Change Citizens Jury, a representative group of local people who have deliberated and created a series of recommendations.

“Covid-19 has been catastrophic but we know at some stage we shall come out the other side. The climate change emergency is much bigger and over-arching so that is really the theme that is informing town councillors in their decision making over the next 12 months.”

The council was continuing to work with the Environment Agency, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria County Council over the town’s flood protection scheme. It was also continuing to support Kendal Futures and partners including Kendal BID to improve the economic and social vibrancy of the town.

What would people notice if Kendal Town Council did not exist? Mr Bagshaw recalled a family trip around Eastern Europe as a child where he noticed how central planning had stripped areas of any individuality. He said having an organisation like Kendal Town Council boosted the ability of a community to make its area nicer and create some individuality.