VECTIS VIEW: Heather Humber MBE, 50 years of service as a councillor

By IW Jun 14, 2022

In 1972, after having been involved in various community activities for some years, I was persuaded to stand for election as a councillor on the Sandown-Shanklin Urban District Council (SSUDC).

At that time, SSUDC comprised of 14 councillors, 13 men, and only one woman! I was therefore extremely surprised to be elected. How times have changed; women are now well represented on all Island councils.

When SSUDC ceased in 1974 it was replaced by South Wight Borough Council, and, following a vote in 1995, the Isle of Wight Council replaced it as well as Medina Borough Council.

I voted for the formation of the IW Council but, with hindsight, I believe it was a bad decision. In my opinion, the Sandown Bay Area has not prospered so well in recent times and seems to have become the poor relation to Ryde, Newport, and Cowes.

The IW Council were once solely responsible for tourist amenities but, when deciding not to remain responsible for some non-statutory duties, those costs fell upon the town and parish councils, and coastal town councils especially.

They became responsible for providing the extra services that are required for tourists, including beach cleaning, parks and gardens and the extra toilets needed for the influx of visitors. The Isle of Wight was once described as a three-legged stool, relying on agriculture, boat building and tourism for its income. Tourism benefits the entire Island, and I believe that all charges related to tourism should be equally shared by a charge imposed upon all town and parish precepts.

When serving as mayor and chairman of the IW Council, I was fortunate to attend many civic occasions. As mayor of Sandown Town Council, I attended the visit of Princess Diana for the opening of Sandown Fire Station. Standing last in the reception line, I was aware that, as she spoke with others, they were all shaking their heads when addressed.

On finally reaching me she asked: “Well, are you going to tell me, what is this dreadful pong I can smell?” Somewhat taken aback, and aware no one else had dared to tell her, I summoned up courage and replied: “Ma’am, the sewage works are just over the hedge behind you!” Laughing, she slapped her thigh, saying: “Thank goodness for that; I had started to think it was the Lord-Lieutenant’s aftershave.”

Civic occasions are a necessary part of the duties of chairmen and mayors. However, as chairman of IW Council, I thought it important to experience the many duties undertaken by our workforce first hand. Consequently, I spent time with refuse collectors, parking attendants, the fire brigade and various other departments, including the police and ambulance service. It was the best decision I made as a councillor, being alongside those who serve us on the front line and see the essential work they undertake on our behalf is so much more worthwhile than reading the endless reports received.

My proudest moment has been my visit to Buckingham Palace, to receive the award of the MBE for services to the community.

Sandown is a great place to live, with a caring community and many organisations who serve our town in various ways. I was instrumental in establishing Sandown Town Council in 1984 and was its first mayor. I was also its clerk for 11 years. It has been a privilege to serve Sandown’s residents for more than 50 years. Of the various councils on which I’ve served, I must admit that it’s Sandown Town Council that has been the most rewarding of all.