Occasionally, I like to take a side step from the author side of my blog and link up with people who are doing good things for the community.
I would like to introduce you to a family friend, Neil Tungate, Mayor of New Milton Town Council in Hampshire. Last week Neil retired from his post and has just returned from taking a well-deserved break following in the footsteps of his family roots in the Black Forest in Germany.
I invited Neil for interview and he kindly accepted. Enjoy the read from someone who has done the community proud over the years.
Welcome Neil to my blog.
What is your working background?
I started work in the defence sector with The Plessey Company when I left Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1974 with an HND in Electrical & Electronic Engineering. I remained with the business until my retirement 2 years ago, although we did have a couple of changes of ownership along the way concluding as a part of BAE Systems.
What made you decide the take the political road in life?
I became friendly with a couple of local councillors socially, and thought that there were far too many accountants and solicitors involved. When a local councillor died and New Milton Town Council wanted to co-opt someone to fill the vacancy I was happy to step in. That was 19 years ago, and I’m still there!
Tell me about your role in the town council before you became Mayor of New Milton?
I have been a member of the Finance Committee since my original co-option, and was chairman of it for the 10 years before my colleagues elected me to be Mayor in 2012.
When you were elected two years ago, how did that make you feel? Was there a lot to be done in the town?
I felt very honoured to be chosen by my colleagues to represent the whole town. I had been asked before, but refused because I was still in full-time employment and knew I would need the time to do the job properly. There are always ongoing projects, but it was an especially good time to be Mayor as we were embarking on building our recently opened Performance Pavilion.
At the time you were elected, what did New Milton need most?
That’s a hard question to answer. I’m not sure there was anything specific required, but I do think that the town has developed a better community spirit during the past few years.
What is the role of Mayor and what would be a typical day/week for you?
There are two aspects to the Mayoral role. Firstly, the Mayor is the senior councillor, a bit like the chairman of the board if you like. So that involves chairing meetings of the full council, meeting with the committee chairmen to discuss strategy or specific problems, and with the Town Clerk on a regular basis. Secondly, he represents the whole town and is therefore in demand at many external functions. These can vary from attending the opening of a charity shop, to service organisation events, to school events. I have been delighted to meet so many wonderful people doing amazing things in our town – many on a voluntary basis too.
Do you feel that you and your colleagues have achieved most of your aspirations for New Milton before your retirement?
I think I have had a successful two years. I didn’t really have any specific aspirations, but I think I have managed to demystify the role of councillors a little. It was nice to open our new Performance Pavilion as my last engagement before handing over to my successor.
If there was one single thing where you feel you have a made a difference what would you choose?
I think I have shown many of our local residents, especially the youngsters, that councillors do not have to be stuffy and distant. When it was appropriate, I would attend engagements dressed informally which clearly helped people to realise I was no different to them. Many young people now recognise me around town and I have been referred to as “the coolest mayor in the world”!
As a writer and author, I have noticed your flair for writing is extremely interesting and I wondered if you might ever consider writing a book now that your term of office has ended?
I have often though about writing a book, but have never had that germ of a story to start. I do enjoy writing, although I am not consistent – sometimes it’s easy and other times I cannot get started.
If you were to write a book which genre would you choose?
My successful writing has always been practical – I’m not a story-teller. It would be lovely to write fiction, but my mind just doesn’t seem to create stories. So maybe something related to food, one of my great loves.
In this world of political disdain, if you could make a difference to the world, what would it be?
I would love to make all politicians honest and honourable. If I can do it, then so should the others.
What is your favourite music genre?
That’s impossible to answer. I have such wide-ranging tastes I really cannot choose a single favourite genre. The Grateful Dead is one of my all-time favourite groups, but their work alone spans rock, blues, bluegrass, country, jazz and folk. I’m sure you can see why this question gives me a problem!
Who is your most revered politician?
I don’t think I’ve ever revered a politician. I admire those who appear to be honourable but, sadly, far too many seem to be in it for themselves.
You have lived in the New Forest area all your life. How has the New Forest changed for you over the years? Has it been a positive experience?
We now have the National Park Authority, about which I’m fairly ambivalent. It’s a bit of a thankless task for them, trying to manage the tourism aspects whilst not upsetting local residents. I think they’ve got it about right though. Other than that, I do notice the ever increasing numbers of tourists, but it’s a bit like the gradual changes to ourselves as we grow older, which you only notice occasionally. But we locals all know of places we can go to spend some time in peace, and those places still exist.
Have you decided what you might like to do next?
I’m going to the back benches for this year at least, allowing Betty and I to spend time together doing what we want. But I’ll still be mugging people for donations to my favourite local charities – Autism Wessex, Helping Older People (HOPe), Oakhaven Hospice and Common Ground – so watch out!
Good luck Neil with your future, I feel you will carry on achieving good things for your community, despite your mayoral retirement. I look forward to reading more about you next time.
I wish Neil Tungate and his wife Betty every success in their new life.