Statement from Sion Edwards

We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.

Hi, I'm Siôn and I'm standing as the next councillor for Queensway in Caia Park, Wrexham. My mum was born in Y Wern and I was raised, just down the road, in Kingsmills, where I spent most of my childhood paddling in the Gwenfro, playing on Whitgate park and going to Queensway Youth Club. A lot has changed since then(!) and not all of it good.

Nowadays, I work at The Venture, leading their Play Inclusion Project for autistic children and, up until January, I also worked as a playworker at Gwenfro Valley. Working in Caia Park for nearly 10 years, I've seen for myself how simple changes can make a huge difference to people's lives. Forcing the Council to work for the people of Wrexham, rather than the other way around, will mean better quality of living for everyone in our town.

It will come as no surprise that I am passionate about children's rights but I am also a champion of those who are not given a fair start or chance in life. Where people are struggling, you don't have to look too far up the chain to see where things could have been different or things could be better straight away today.

People may know me through my many years in local musical theatre, being involved in productions with Wrexham Pantomime Company, Grove Park Theatre and Tip Top Productions. Most of my time has been with Wrexham Musical Theatre Society and I am currently their Chairperson. I also give my time, voluntarily, as a trustee of The Playwork Foundation.

I am proud of my Wrecsam roots and believe our north-easterly corner of the country has an abundance of culture, talent and potential. Although not a fluent speaker, I am a member of Cymedithas yr Iaith (The [Welsh] Language Society) and I promote the inclusion of our nation's language whenever possible. I relish the opportunity to don a Wrexham or a Wales shirt and, at this year's English National Playwork Conference, in Eastbourne, I opened the Annual Playwork Awards ceremony dressed as a red dragon singing Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - in my defence, it was St. David's Day!

Questions & Answers

1. What are the three biggest issues for your ward, how do you think they need to be resolved, and what will you do to achieve it?

1. Cleaner, safer streets - many of our roads and pavements are in desperate need of repair. It's not just potholes a-plenty that are a problem but uneven and damaged walkways that are tricky for people with pushchairs, using a wheelchair or with other mobility needs. Litter, broken glass and fly-tipping have also become a common sight. Wrexham Labour are proposing a rapid response team to ensure issues like these are both reported and dealt with quickly so that they don't snowball into bigger and bigger problems. 2. Better community spaces - there are some beautiful spots around Queensway and, indeed, our entire town. In recent years, wild flower meadows, tree planting, litter-picking and small improvements have shown how, with a little attention and investment, the way our neighbourhoods look and feel can greatly improve. Supporting groups like the Wrexham Litter Pickers and nurturing local talent with proper support and investment can help create a new sense of community that seems to have been lost in recent years. 3. Cost-of-living crisis - rising gas and electricity prices are just the tip of the iceberg. This cost-of-living-crisis is set to only get worse. Every day, I hear more and more people say how they are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table. Better support and advice services will be needed to respond to the increasing needs and demand. Wrexham Labour will continue to support schemes like the Holiday Hunger project at The Venture and Gwenfro Valley and the Caia Park Advice Service and see how these community-level interventions could be delivered on a county-wide basis to the benefit of everyone in Wrexham.

2. What do you think needs to be done to help Wrexham recover from the pandemic and what hands-on-role can you play as a councillor ?

Increasing footfall to our town centre will be key to the economic recovery of our town from the pandemic. Flexible working, hot desking, improved public transport and accessible parking could make our town centre more attractive to both workers and employers - let's see a return to the lunchtime economy as workers buy their groceries, household goods and a new outfit, all whilst popping out of the office for a coffee or a sandwich. Urban regeneration, making our town a more child-friendly place, would make our high street a place where families and friends could linger for hours and spend a little money, perhaps. On a more human level, the recovery from the effects of the pandemic on our mental health will have to be long-term. We need to reconnect as a society - have more opportunities and places where we can come together and socialise. Mental health services need to be local, relevant and ready to respond to people's needs - let's not wait until people get to the point of crisis but have an offer that people can take up much sooner. During the pandemic, I helped to establish a bespoke service for children and young people with neurodevelopmental conditions (such as autism or ADHD) and their families. It wasn't complicated - it was simply giving these families a dedicated service that was understanding of their potential individual circumstances. The outcomes of this project, even as time has passed and the public health situation improved, have been priceless. It is often simple interventions but at an earlier stage that can help stave off crisis and help to build resilience.

3. As a councillor you may have the chance to take on further roles eg. Lead Member, Audit, Scrutiny. What appeals to you and what skills do you bring to that role?

First and foremost, if elected, my first priorities would be to move matters forward for Queensway ward ensuring that constituents who have raised issues are heard. However, I would not shy away from opportunities to influence wholesale change that would result in better conditions for residents across our town. I trust the process within the Labour Group to get the right person for the roles available based on interests, skills and experience. I've sometimes been described as a natural spanner in the works which, over the years, I've come to realise is a commentary on my desire to make sure that all bases are covered. Has everyone been included? Inclusivity is very important to me and ensuring things are fit-for-purpose rather than that'll do for now is better that wasting money down the line in rectifying your mistakes.

4. What do the words climate emergency mean to you and your ward?

I work mostly with children and young people and they are astutely aware that the climate emergency is here. It's not something for future generations, it's something we should already be dealing with. Circular economy and natural energy production are obvious choices for young people and it's frustrating to them that institutions and systems seem to favour profit over planet. Active travel (cycling and walking) benefits both our physical and mental health and also helps to protect the environment. In our fast-paced modern world, it's easier to jump in the car or book an Uber than it is to make the time to walk or cycle to where we need to go. Local initiatives encouraging active travel to school and work, as well as car-pooling to reduce carbon emissions, are just some of the simple ways we can encourage positive change in our town. Wales is a net exporter of energy yet our electricity bills are some of the highest in all of the UK - how is that fair? Renewable energy should not come at a premium and local energy production schemes (wind turbines, solar) should benefit the people living where that energy is produced. As our Member of the Senedd, Lesley Griffiths, stated in her climate emergency declaration in April 2019, this "is not an issue which can be left to individuals or to the free market. It requires collective action" - Wrexham Labour are ready to support the Welsh Government in responding to this emergency.

5. What is the biggest thing you would have done differently from the ruling administration over the last 5 years? (Or, if you were part of the Administration - what would you have done differently?)

I think listening to the people of Wrexham is important and I don't just mean mind-numbingly boring online surveys which no one wants to fill out. I mean engagement events in the town centre, community centres and the places where people are (the cinema, parks, supermarkets) to hear their opinions of what it is the council is planning and start a dialogue. Events that draw people in and give something back before asking them to do the Council's job for them. The City Status bid is a perfect recent example of how not listening to people can lead to discontent. On one side, you had an administration determined to go ahead with the application regardless of public opinion whilst, on the other, you had Plaid Cymru peddling conspiracy theories about our town being incorporated with the north west of England whilst also touting a rose-tinted view of somehow being able to turn back the clock to Wrexham being a rural market town again. I am sure that all Wrexham residents would love to see the return of a thriving town centre which would give us a real sense of pride and where people genuinely want to shop and visit. We need an ambitious plan to realise this aim and give us the hope for the future we all need in the wake of the pandemic and after years of watching our town centre deteriorate under the Independent/Tory administration. The #Wrecsam2025 City of Culture bid has been a completely different experience. It has inspired us to recognise and celebrate what is good in our county. It has been universally accepted as something that would be positive for our town to achieve. Perhaps the council could learn from the very different approaches taken towards these bids. One of the key elements being cooperation. People (and places) with common goals sharing their ideas and resources to create better outcomes. This collective approach, valuing input from the people, is what I think should be at the heart of the council.

6. Local health pressures are well documented, from delayed ambulances to issues in the hospital. How can the council help resolve those problems?

Broadening the range of services pharmacies and GPs in Wrecsam can offer could ease the pressures on the Maelor and help resolve some of the problems experienced by the NHS. The Council could also begin a conversation with Betsi Cadwaladr about establishing community health hubs that could provide diabetic, cardiac and mental health services as well as performing minor surgery. This is a model that has proved successful elsewhere and we know that there is a real need for a radical approach to primary care in Wrecsam.

7. What will you do on a local level to help support people in your ward affected by the cost of living crisis?

This is one of my priorities. Access to information is key. People not being aware of support that's already out there and not being given any help to access it. The fact that millions of pounds go unclaimed each year, just in our part of the world, is shocking when there are people in genuine need. Better advice and support services are needed to raise awareness of what is available. It is also important to have people who can help with the completion of forms etc as not everyone can navigate these complicated systems. Literacy, disability and anxiety are just some of the barriers that may stop people seeking help. We have to break down these barriers wherever possible. I will be happy to talk to people, find out their needs and point them in the right direction. I can't think of anything that would be more satisfying than seeing someone get what they're entitled to or to make things just a little easier in their lives. Councillors should play a key role in ensuring their constituents know how to access this financial support and actively help them to access it. In Queensway, supporting and promoting the Holiday Hunger schemes and the Caia Park Advice Service are an immediate way of helping local people affected by the cost of living crisis but there is more that could be done. Finding out what other initiatives are available, through the council and through the third sector (e.g. energy debt advice and discount schemes), and exploring new initiatives (e.g. working with Wrexham Foodbank) are a way of going further and improving support available at the grassroots.

8. How would you improve the local education system?

Improving education is Welsh Labour's national mission. Nothing is so essential as universal access to, and acquisition of, the experiences, knowledge and skills that young people need for employment, lifelong learning and active citizenship. The biggest issue I hear from children and young people is the prevalence of bullying in our schools. We cannot simply have "zero tolerance" bullying policies that are not then brought into action when bullying takes place. Teachers and other school staff need to have meaningful and trusting relationships with children and young people so that, when bullying does take place, students feel confident that they will be listened to and that they will get the help that they need. The culture of some schools does not allow for such humanity - this has to change. The new Curriculum for Wales is a once in a generation opportunity for schools to ensure that our education system works for all children and young people. The local authority has a statutory responsibility for all our Wrexham schools and so it is up to the Council to ensure that the Education Department fulfils its commitments and gives the funding and support schools need to ensure all children and young people enjoy the high standard of education they deserve. We also need to recognise those children and young people who don't go to school. I have been privileged to work with Home Educated children and witness alternative education provision at The Venture for many years. Children and young people are natural scholars - they will take every opportunity to learn (even when it's not set up in a traditional way). Embracing, rather than marginalising, people who are not in mainstream education and finding ways of learning that works for them undoubtedly brings better outcomes - both for the individual and society at large.

9. When the public view the Full Council meeting in June, do you envision you could be part of a Party, Group or coalition, and if so, specifically who and why?

I will be a Welsh Labour Councillor and I am proud to stand on a local manifesto put together by listening to Wrecsam people. It has been written locally (not in Cardiff or London) and recognises local needs and it is a manifesto filled with ambition, vision and hope for the future.

10. This is a noteworthy election with 16 and 17 year olds now able to vote, what have you done to engage this new electorate and what do you think is the biggest issue for them locally ?

Before I had decided to stand as a councillor, I was already leading on a project called Mynd Allan a Phleidleisio (MAaP) / Go Out & Vote at The Venture. The aim of this project was to encourage young people, qualifying foreign nationals and almost anyone else who would listen to register to vote and then, on May 5th, go an out and vote. As a playworker and a youth worker, I am used to putting the voice of young people on par with that of any adults (including my own). As discussed with the climate emergency, young people are astutely aware of the issues locally - almost without exception, the environment and mental health are some of the first issues they think need tackling. It's great that Welsh Government have made every effort to encourage young people to register to vote and Wrexham County Borough Council has also had a good campaign to raise awareness of the voting rights of young people and how to register. My recent experience tells me that many young people in Wrexham and Flintshire are registered to vote and they're ready to vote for change.

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