VECTIS VIEW: Heather Humby MBE, Sandown town councillor and former Mayor

Heather with Sandown's current mayor, Alex Lightfoot

Fifty years ago, in 1974, I had been a member of Sandown & Shanklin Urban District Council (UDC), one of six urban district councils covering the Island, for two years, when the Local Government Act created two borough councils, Medina and South Wight, and I became a member of South Wight Borough Council (SWBC).

At the same time, the Island gained its own Lord-Lieutenant, with Lord Louis Mountbatten becoming the first of six to hold the post. We also had a new position of IW High Sheriff, created with Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Richard Henry Kindersley, of Yarmouth, appointed. That year, 1974, also saw the start of events such as the Island’s Annual Sports Awards.

For more than 20 years, SWBC championed tourism and leisure, with Don Moody promoting a series of prominent acts at Sandown Pavilion. Headline TV acts included Jimmy Tarbuck, Leslie Crowther, Cannon & Ball, and Little & Large. They all vied for the summer season, interspersed by Sunday shows shared with Shanklin Theatre.

The ’70s saw the opening of the Revetment (or promenade) between Sandown and Shanklin, transforming the holiday experience for residents and tourists alike. Beachgoers needed to find their spot on the sand early or have to trek to locations further away from the popular sites. The sites included Yaverland, where there was an annual BBC Radio 1 Roadshow, with top DJs and headline bands performing on stage.

There was no party politics in the borough council, and we had our own treasurer and surveyor. Local people were involved in local projects, such as the opening of The Heights, the partnership project that was South Wight Sports Centre. We also invested in parks and gardens, as well as local events.

In the 1980s local residents were asking for a more local voice, and, with Sandonians Norman Warner and Di Drayton, I collected signatures to campaign for a town council, with the petition lodged with the Speaker in the Houses of Parliament. We secured permission to start in 1984 with Shanklin soon following.

I negotiated, with the borough council, use of the Town Hall for the first meeting, and we then had a room at the Railway Station, before setting up home at the Broadway Centre.

Since being a councillor, I’ve been involved with visits from Princess Diana, the Queen Mother, Prince Michael of Kent, and the Duchess of Gloucester, who was part of an event to grant the freedom of the town to HMS Sandown. I’ve also had the privilege to be Chairman of the IW Council.

Increasingly, over the past 50-plus years, I’ve seen agriculture, tourism and boat-building (all historically vital Island activities) all diminish, sadly, in importance to the powers that be. Town and parish councils have had to take on more responsibilities, such as public toilets and lifeguards, and the influence of party politics has become more obvious.

With 2024 being a year of celebrations and commemorations, it is fitting that the Island’s Lord-Lieutenant will be a part of Sandown’s commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of D-Day. There will also be an acknowledgment of the part that Islanders paid in other WW2 conflicts, such as Kohima, Monte Cassino and Operation Market Garden, with a commitment made to support the Armed Forces Covenant.

As someone who served in the ‘Wrens’ (Women’s Royal Naval Service), followed by half a century in grassroots politics, I have seen a transformation of what is expected of small town and parish councils. I truly hope communities reflect on what has been achieved by unpaid parish councillors, and what can be achieved in the future by working together and putting residents first.