Andover’s new mayor has said she plans to be “quite a different chair of meetings” this year as she begins her term of office.

Councillor Barbara Long was elected as the mayor of Andover at a meeting of councillors on May 27 alongside her deputy, Cllr Robin Hughes, with both to serve in their respective offices for a year. She said that her priority was to work together with everyone on the council, no matter who they are.

“I won’t be a chair leading the council,” she told the Advertiser. “As a corporate body, we need to decide what we want to do collectively. I want us all to work together.

“I plan to be quite a different chair this year. I will work with all councillors in the same way, no matter who they are, to do what’s right for the town.”

Cllr Long says first decided to become involved in local politics following controversy over the removal of Vigo Park’s bandstand. It was removed by Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) without consultation following a decision by the-then portfolio holder for leisure, Caroline Nokes – now an MP.

As she watched the 80-year-old bandstand come down, it sparked a passion to make a change in Cllr Long’s life.

“I thought it wasn’t right decisions were being made without residents knowledge,” she said. “Lots of people were saying Test Valley were doing what they liked in Andover, and were very disgruntled about it.

“I thought Andover deserved to have a voice to challenge Test Valley, which is what we did. I decided I would stand for the town council when a seat became available, which was back in 2010.”

Elected as one of the town council’s earliest members, she recalls the council had to set about establishing itself as a voice to be listened to.

“It was hard work in the early days as it was only because of a referendum that got the council formed,” Cllr Long said. “We spent a lot of our time trying to ensure that TVBC and Hampshire County Council would notify us of planning applications, street name changes, highways works and similar. We felt that as a town council we should know all those things that are going on.”

Though this process took two years, she said that other councils began to listen to the town council.

Cllr Long said: “Test Valley are far better now at consultations and talking to residents, and they’ve set up Andover Vision too, but in 2010 none of that was happening.”

She said that it is important that town councils are listened to by more powerful authorities, as they are the ones who are involved with local people’s issues.

“Manifestos from parties at a national level doesn’t really impact at a parish council,” she said. “It impacts at county, it impacts at borough, and while we have to be aware of that, it’s really about residents at this level.

“I don’t think national politics makes much of a difference to how you react at parish level. Most of the parishes in Test Valley don’t have party names associated with their councillors. They may sit with parties elsewhere, but they don’t at a parish level.

“I firmly believe that parish councils and town councils should be people wanting to do better for their parish and town. That’s why I stood as an independent.”

She said this focus is what helped the town council deliver a variety of projects over its first five years, being involved in putting up a plaque in the high street for The Troggs singer Reg Presley, and celebrating the Diamond Jubilee. Cllr Long also likes to get hands on with the projects.

“For the 100th anniversary of the Great War at Christmas we did a sort-of football match to commemorate the Christmas truce,” she said. “I also did displays in the library window using clippings from the Advertiser to show the events from a local perspective. We also marked every single name on the cenotaph with the help of Craig Lewis.”

The council’s growing confidence saw it represented more widely at events in the borough, and when Cllr Long was elected mayor in 2018, this continued.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my year as mayor,” she said. “I had lots of invites and I attended around 34 functions, which was probably more than any other had been invited to. I was very proud to represent Andover Town Council.”

However, the following year, she was to lose her seat as the Andover Alliance won 15 of 16 seats available on the town council.

“Handing over was emotional, and I didn’t expect what happened would have happened,” Cllr Long said. “But it was the residents’ decision for something different and the Andover Alliance was promising that.”

Cllr Long and her husband continued to attend council meetings, and saw councillors resign from the committee or leave without ever attending.

“It was a bit of a turbulent time,” she said. “We had two elected councillors who never turned up to a meeting. If you go up for something like this you should be prepared to commit time to it, and if you’re not prepared to do that then you should ask yourself why you are standing.

“In the end, you’re standing because you want to make things better, and that’s certainly why I stood in 2010 to make sure people’s voices were heard. You work with the people on the council and it seems in 2019 slowly you saw they weren’t working together.”

When it came to a by-election, Cllr Long decided that she “couldn’t sit back” and stood for election in St Mary’s Ward, winning her seat as an independent. She acknowledged the frustrations of residents over the past two years, and said she wanted to see them more involved in town politics.

“In the past two years, I think we have seen more people get interested in what’s happening at a local level. Some have been very critical. If they’ve got questions, then I want them to come to meetings and ask them.

“A lot is being done on social media, and I firmly believe it should be at council meetings. The opportunity is always there, and the Town Electors meeting [held on Monday, June 28] was the ideal opportunity for people to do that but apart from the Advertiser there was nothing.

“That was disappointing, when people have been critical, that they didn’t take the opportunity as it’s all about residents having their say.”

As mayor, she also wants to extend working with as many people as possible to councillors, as she hopes to bring the council together.

“We’ve got a balanced mix of the politically-minded and independents,” she said, “and we can work together, because in the end, that’s what councillors in any council do, you don’t go out on a limb by yourself. It’s not about promoting yourself, you’re promoting what the council decides.

“That’s why I decided to stand as chair as I knew I could do the job. I’d done it before, and I hoped that I would be a neutral, independent chair who will work with everybody to make it different to how it has been, as that’s how it needs to be.”