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Hackney Council Speaker Clare Potter on spreading the value of democracy

PUBLISHED: 15:01 28 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:01 28 September 2018

Clare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Clare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

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Clare Potter tells Emma Bartholomew about her former life as a carpenter and how she's trying to engage as many people with democracy during her time as Speaker

Clare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma BartholomewClare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

“I want everyone to feel I’m approachable regardless of their politics,” Clare Potter says, sitting in the Speaker’s Parlour at Hackney Town Hall – where you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Traditionally the non-political, ceremonial speaker post involves raising money for charity – but Clare also hopes to introduce as many people as possible to democracy this year.

She’s inviting community groups who don’t normally engage with the council for tours of the newly renovated 1930s Town Hall and vaults.

“The more people feel a part of the community and a sense of their value and role to play, the more people will contribute to that process, from as simple as voting, to joining local community groups,” said Clare, a mother-of-three, who became a councillor in Brownswood ward four years ago.

Clare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma BartholomewClare Potter in the Speaker's Parlour at the Town Hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Growing up in Wigan she studied social policy at Hull University, but decided she “didn’t have enough life experience to be a social worker”, and took a job at a children’s residential home in London. After her first baby was born she got into carpentry by chance, after passing a sign advertising a course, thinking, “I fancy giving this a go”.

Women carpenters were rare in the early 90s.

“It was very difficult on site and could be a hostile environment, there being the banter, and you would get sexual overtures in that culture at that time, but there were lots of great people of both sexes who were very supportive.” said Clare.

“I was lucky enough to learn my craft and be mentored by an experienced older male carpenter who was great at passing on tips of the trade.”

She managed to combine a social element to her skill when she began teaching women and young boys who had dropped out of school.

“Teaching women was about them doing something they’d never thought they’d do and strengthening their belief in themselves,” said Clare.

“Teaching young people, you may spend six months teaching them to use the tools correctly, but then they find the self-belief through mentoring-style teaching, and when they see they can do it, that change is amazing, and then seeing them progress to doing something positive with their lives.”

Hence the three charities she’s chosen to support this year – Hackney Quest, Shoreditch Trust and You Make It - each have a mentoring element.

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