Councillor Kath gets ready for life as Blackpool’s first citizen when she takes up the role of mayor
“It never occurred to me that one day I would become mayor,” says Coun Kath Rowson, who has represented Ingthorpe ward for 17 years. “I’ve got to admit that I thought long and hard before I accepted the nomination. The mayor is the first citizen of the town, you are there to promote it and do your best and I just hope I can. I’d hate to fail the town.”
Uppermost in her concern is that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago but says “I’ve been very lucky actually - I don’t let it hold me back but unfortunately my legs have got lot worse recently. I’ve been up and down but I was determined not to think myself into a wheelchair. I’ve always been determined to keep going. I find it very annoying that my legs won’t go very far now. It’s very frustrating.”
Couple that with the fact that her husband is suffering from “end stage kidney failure and a lot of complications with his diabetes” and it’s amazing she’s so upbeat and has a laugh you can hear coming a block away.
“We’re a good pair,” she says. “We’d spoil another good pair.”
She is fiercely defensive of her home town.
It never occurred to me that one day I would become mayor’
“I became a councillor to do what I could for my town,” she says. “I wanted to put something back into the town I was born and brought up in, which educated and looked after me. I think the town gets knocked too much and we’ve no more faults than most other towns.”
But such loyalty comes at a cost.
“Over the years I’ve spent more and more time doing councillor things and less and less time doing anything else. My social life and council life merged.”
She admits to being “nearly OCD on litter and fly tipping and the environment.”
“I mean look at the cuts we’ve had and the millions we’ve had to spend on people dropping litter and fly tipping. It really annoys me.”
So one of her first challenges as a councillor was “sorting out” Kincraig Lake which had become a wasteland of refuse.
“Things like that became my social life really. We’d be dragging half a car out of the lake that had been thrown in (I was fitter then) and doing litter picks.”
She was behind getting a grant for the North Blackpool Pond Trail and worries what will happen now funding has come to an end.
“We’re desperate to at least find funding to keep the project officer one day a week because have volunteers on a Thursday who will come down and do work on the trail,” she says. “So those sort of things took a lot of my time over.”
Surprisingly she says: “I don’t think I’m the most political person. I’ve always believed in both human and animal rights and I’ve always stuck up for the underdog.
“Yes I was a member of the Labour Party but for a long time I’d been asked to stand for a councillor and didn’t because I said I’d only stand in my own ward where I lived.
“But I think all these cuts are getting me more and more political than I was. I just fight what I think is wrong, if I think the Labour Party has done something wrong I’ll say so. I don’t just stick up for them because it’s my party. “If I think they are being idiots I say so, just as much as I would any other party. But you’ve got to remember as a councillor I’m not here to shriek my own views, I’m here to represent the views of my constituents.”
She has been a staunch supporter of campaigns - appearing in The Gazette to back 30mph limits and resource care centres, among many others.
Being mayor will require a different focus though?
“As mayor, apart from making people very welcome with their conferences etc, I want to show them we do have a good town and tell them not to take any notice of these people who knock it. Come and look at the good things we have, we have our problems like most other towns but we also have a lot of good things that lot of other towns don’t have, especially the seaside towns.
“If I was going to start a seaside based business I’d come to Blackpool because we start in February and go right on until the beginning of November. How many other resorts have that long a season?”
She does have one concern though about being in the spotlight for a year.
“As mayor you’ve got to behave and that’s a new one for me. There’s more to it than a lot of meals out. A lot more. It’s very hard work. It’s one of the busiest mayoralties outside of London. But it’s a job, albeit a job with a difference.
“I’ll try not think of it as being in the spotlight, I’ll look at it as going out to do whatever the engagement is. Welcome people here, tell them how good the town is, then collapse when I get home.”
So is it a good time to be mayor?
“No. The whole town is struggling to get money so that makes it harder to promote the town. It’s not fun when people ask for help and you’ve had to close them down.
“Certainly it won’t be as lavish as it used to be decades ago but I wouldn’t want that anyway. I’m not one for lavish and I’m not even going to be wearing the robes. I’d look an idiot in them that’s why. I’m wearing the chain though – as long as it doesn’t pull me over!”
Will she be in the firing line though?
“Oh yes. One or two people have already asked if I can get something done about such a thing but actually I can get more done about things as a councillor than I can as mayor.
“I’ve got to be a-political for a year, I can’t go charging in, that’s why I’ll have to remember to be good, not get on my soapbox or get my banners out.”
So does Blackpool actually need a mayor?
“We aren’t lavish, it’s done on much more of a shoestring now but I think you do need somebody to be able to be there to thank people and greet them.
“We rely a great deal on tourism so there should be someone there who can say ‘hello I’m the mayor of Blackpool, you are very welcome here, what can I do to help you and please come back’ - and stand there in the rain and say welcome to sunny Blackpool.
“But a year will be long enough. When Boris Johnson or the Queen get home someone has made their meal, done the washing and Hoovering. We’ve to do those things ourselves, and I’ve still got the ward work to look after.”
So with a year of tongue biting non-politicking what can she actually achieve as mayor?
“I’d like to think I’d achieve promoting Blackpool in its best light. It’s become the in thing to knock it and I’d like to help change that. Let’s show it’s not all like 999 What’s Your Emergency. That was a little square patch of the town.
“I’d like to think I could step in and ask the knockers to come and talk to us.
“So many of our residents are just quietly helping the town so much. It’s not surprising people are so disappointed when they read people knocking the town because they’re doing this work and it’s not fair on them that very often it’s people who haven’t even visited Blackpool, they’ve just heard everyone else knocking it.”
But she will also be mayor in the most financially restricted year in the resort’s history?
“Yes, I’ll have to take my bucket round with me collecting for the council,” she laughs. “If people could see the hour upon hour upon hour that we spend going through things asking how do we save that money? We don’t want to reduce any service or cut back especially when it’s not our fault but if we set a deficit budget the leader’s in jail and they’ll send people up from the government to set the budget. We don’t want that, thank you very much, they wouldn’t know where to make the cuts.
“Most people are realistic but for some people it’s a hobby knocking the council. I’d love for them to come and spend a few weeks trying to work the budgets out and keep the services going. I’d love them to see how hard the councillors and council staff work to keep things going.”
She admits new businesses are urgently needed.
“But we’re such a small town, we don’t have the land to build large factories on or attract businesses that would really bring big numbers – but certainly if I heard of anything whilst I was mayor I’d be very glad to help. Or would it be best keeping me out of the way so I didn’t upset them?”
The best thing about Blackpool?
“We are not the crime-ridden town a lot of people make it out to be. I see an awful lot of good caring people and I don’t think everyone sees that about the town.”
And the worst thing?
“It’s the name we are given. I don’t know when the knock Blackpool thing started, but now the image has gone round we’ve really got to work hard to get rid of it.”
So has she ever regretted climbing on board the rollercoaster of local politics?
“Sometimes when I realise my social life has disappeared,” she says. “And my poor husband. When I apologise to him for being out so much he just smiles happily so I think he probably enjoys the peace and quiet when I’m not there.
“But I’ve never got to screaming pitch and asking ‘why did I do this?’ Then again there are days when you’re tired and it’s all gone wrong and there’s an abusive message on the answering machine, you might wonder why am I doing this but it doesn’t last long and I don’t really mean it because it really feels great to be able to get something done for the town, to achieve things. Then I feel fulfilled, I feel I’ve given something back to the town I love because I’ve been a pain all my life, so I should give it something back shouldn’t I?”
And with a couple of months to go before she dons the chain of office it’s time for an unfair question. How would she like her year as first citizen to be remembered?
“It’s been nice to think I’ve achieved things for the town and for my ward. I’ve fought hard to get things done and there’s lots more things I’d like to have a go at but there’s time yet. As for the end of next year maybe ‘thank God we survived her’.
“I honestly thought when the vote came they’d all shout ‘oh no not her, Blackpool has enough problems already’ – but they were kind and voted me in. So I would like to think I can continue to help make a difference to my town.”
And if anyone can, it’s Kath Rowson.
What does Blackpool mean to you?
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