And so we go to Portsmouth to meet an inspiring Unite Community member, standing for the council, in the ward where she lives. Jody Whitehill reports
Nikki Coles, a Unite Community member, who has lived in Fratton, Portsmouth for the past nine years, describes herself as just an ordinary mum, but she knows first-hand the issues that people in her community face as she has lived them herself.
“I’m proud to be part of my community. I think living in the ward I hope to represent gives me an empathy with the community that will strengthen my passion to have their voices heard,” she said.
Nikki’s husband is a councillor in the same ward too and campaigning is a real family affair with their three daughters joining them when they go door to door speaking to other residents.
“I am heavily involved in my local community – my children all go to the local school and I love to get involved and volunteer to help. I love to try and empower my community,” she said.
Nikki first became involved with Unite Community following her campaign to save their local Sure Start Children’s Centres, which she proudly describes as her biggest success.
“I know what a vital support service sure start centres are. I relied on them a lot, especially after my first daughter when I struggled with post-natal depression. They are so important to giving children the best start to life,” she said.
It was Nikki’s campaigning that inspired her husband to stand as a councillor in Fratton. But now that her children are a bit older she feels this is her time to do more for her community.
“There’s not equal representation in Portsmouth city council. It is made up of 42 councillors and 30 of those are men,” she said.
“I am standing against four men in my ward. Women need someone to speak for them and I intend to make sure they are heard,” she added.
A lot of families in Fratton live in food poverty or at the mercy of landlords who are not regulated and force families to live in substandard conditions.
“How can someone from a privileged background represent people whose struggles they cannot relate to or understand,” Nikki pointed out.
From speaking to her neighbours in her community and from her own experience Nikki touches on the main issues facing residents from mental health services, street cleanliness and anti-social behaviour to the run down high street and parking.
“Mental health provision is a key issue. Not just for adults but also for children. CAMHs (child and adolescent mental health services) is critically underfunded with no clear pathway and a system that is impossible for families to navigate,” she said.
“Everyday issues like parking can have the biggest effect on people’s lives. A chemo patient told me how they can’t get parked outside their house and many people often just don’t leave their house after 6pm or they won’t be able to park again when they return. With many of the houses in Fratton being terraced there simply isn’t enough parking,” she added.
Being a private renter herself Nikki is also well aware of the issues around housing for her community.
“Most people where I live rent and there are no renter’s rights. Many of the house are in some form of disrepair. The landlords wouldn’t put up with the state of some of the houses themselves so why should we live like this. There is no regulation for landlords and I have been campaigning for strict licensing to protect tenants already.” she said.
Nikki also volunteers for Portsmouth parent’s board where she listens to the views of other parents and reports back to the council to try and improve services through focus groups.
For Nikki Labour stands for the same values as she does. Championing working people, making sure they have fair pay, safe jobs and secure housing.
“Labour created the welfare system and the NHS and we want to protect those things for the people who need them,” she said.
“We need more people in politics who truly represent their communities and care about the people. The Tories just care about lining their pockets. I am living it and I care,” she added.
If you live in the South East and want to help Nikki like her Facebook page to see more about what she stands for. You can also contact the Unite South East regional office and ask to speak to the regional political officer.
Wherever you live if would like to help Unite candidates in your area or to find out more see here
By Jody Whitehill
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