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Jackie Weaver on local democracy, virtual meetings – and becoming an agony aunt

Jackie April

Interview by Sam Walby

Jackie Weaver became a household name overnight back in February after she showed a zen-like calmness in the face of pandemonium on a Zoom meeting of Handforth Parish Council.

To say that Jackie has been busy since then would be an understatement, with many media appearances, interviews and a new podcast called Jackie Weaver Has The Authority coming soon (more on that later...)

The Chief Officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils spoke to us ahead of hosting our Festival of Debate Does Question Time event on Thursday 13th May. We can’t wait...

We've got representatives from political parties and are also confirming other panellists as we speak - what are your hopes for the Festival of Debate Does Question Time event on 13th May?

I really hope that we can begin to make politics feel more real to people and give them a sense that their views do actually matter.

The political stage seems to get larger and more ambitious year-on-year, so that we believe that we have to act globally in order to make a difference. I hope that, through discussion with people who are passionate about politics, we can begin to see our own reflection in their words and see a place where we can have impact in a positive way for our communities.

Tell us about your 'day job' with Cheshire Association of Local Councils, and why that work is important.

The unsung heroes and heroines of local democracy are within our local councils. This is the place where you don’t have to be special or privileged to get involved, you just have to want to make a difference in your own community.

My job at ChALC is to help those committed individuals with training, information, support, guidance – whatever they need in order to move forward.

The second strand to our work is representation of the sector, where we provide the means for our principal authorities to engage with their local councils and, given the diversity in the sector, that is no mean feat.

And finally – through our national body, National Association of Local Councils – we represent the views, needs and aspirations of the sector to central government. We have a way to go.

Do you think the 'virtual meeting revolution' which has occurred since Covid could boost engagement with local democracy and decision-making bodies - for people who have less time to come to physical meetings, for example?

Absolutely. Unfortunately by the time you are reading this the coronavirus legislation that allowed such meetings will have timed out and unless we can persuade Government to pass further legislation on this point we will no longer be able to hold virtual meetings.

Those of us involved in local councils are desperate to keep this facility – although we do also want to meet face-to-face – for that very reason, that it makes meetings accessible to more people.

You've got a new podcast launching soon. Tell us more about that.

Now this is where I have had lots of fun - Jackie Weaver Has The Authority. It's an agony aunt podcast, answering questions submitted by the public! If people have a question, they can tweet @JackieWeaverPod. It starts on Tuesday 18 May and people can subscribe and listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever they normally get their podcasts.

Every episode, I am joined by a famous guest to help me tackle important life issues and big, meaningful questions in life, such as: Is a holiday in the UK a holiday or a staycation? Do dentists do it themselves or go to other dentists?

Guest line-up so far includes Anton Du Beke, Rev. Kate Bottley, Jeremy Vine, Tom Allen, Rosie Jones, Jay Rayner, Omid Djalili and quite a few others. People can find lots more information about the show on Twitter.

The podcast is supporting the Anti Bullying Programme from The Diana Award, which was set up in legacy of Princess Diana and her belief that young people can change the world.