Please pass on a big thank-you to the voters of Walton,” says Conservative Town Councillor Jill Piggott. “Without them, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.” Since they elected her in 2010, she’s been on a political fast track, first as Deputy Mayor to Mike Shaw last year and now as Mayor in her own right.
She’s not giving up the day job either. Stafford and Rural Homes, where she works in the call centre team, are letting her work flexibly and pop out in her lunch hour to perform the odd opening ceremony. But if she can’t get away, Deputy Mayor Mike Williamson is always on hand to do the honours. Jill took a week off for Stone Festival though, where she rode an open-top Bentley in the Carnival parade. “Attendance was brilliant and the talent amazing,” she marvels.
“Philip Leason’s 3.5 hour heritage walk through the Moddershall Valley was a revelation,” she reflects. “I’ve always lived locally, but festival week really showed me what people round here have got to offer. As Mayor, I’ll be promoting Stone as to the best of my abilities.”
And to think it all started with a toilet – the compost toilet on Tilling Drive allotments, where Jill is secretary, and for which the late Cllr Mike Carey helped her apply for a Borough Council grant. “He got me into attending meetings, taking minutes and such like,” Jill reflects. “I’ll be ever grateful to him for suggesting I should stand for the Town Council.”
Though she’d always voted, active politics were simply not on the radar for the teenage YTS trainee, then sales assistant at Cunningham’s Greengrocers and at Lennon’s Wine Shop in Stone. Even less so in 1982, when the 18-year-old Jill became a single mum. But supportive parents enabled her to keep baby Scott, hold down a caring job at the Hill Nursing Home in Barlaston, and get a flat in Walton Grange.
Which is where, a few years later, husband Cliff entered the frame, her flat window frame, actually, as a window cleaner. “Through the glass, I saw a little boy playing with his cars on the window sill,” Cliff recounted. “He must have taken a shine to me, because he came out and told me his mum had told him to ask me round some time for a cup of tea.”
Cliff already knew her slightly, as their families were neighbours on the Coppice Estate, but when he did call round a few days later, it was to Jill’s surprise. “I’ve already paid you, haven’t I?” was her first reaction. “Yes, but I’ve come for that cup of tea you were offering,” said Cliff. “It was the first I’d heard of it, but I let him in anyway,” remembers Jill.
“It must have been little Scott’s way of bringing us together,” she smiles. The pair soon clicked and married within months. Cliff became a second father to Scott, and in 1988, their son Adam was born.
For years, the pair fitted their full-time jobs, Cliff as a track maintenance worker at Stone Station and Jill as a community carer, around the boys’ childcare needs. “One would be out at work while the other was home with the children,” says Jill. “We just got on with it,” agrees Cliff, “it was what we had to do.” In 1995, the family moved to Lotus Court on Oulton Road, Stone, where Jill became resident warden for some years. Her next post was with Stafford Borough Council’s Social Services Call Centre, a frontline for local emergencies. “People taking a fall, overdosing, setting fire to the properties, you name it, we dealt with it,” she laughs.
Six years ago, Jill transferred to her present post as Customer Service Advisor at Stafford and Rural Homes, dealing with repairs, complaints, neighbourhood issues, benefit levels and increasingly, the fallout from the bedroom tax.
Given her CV, it’s not surprising that Jill’s twin passions are elderly care and housing. “We need to monitor older people’s standard of care while respecting individual wishes,” she insists. “People have such different abilities so a one-size care package definitely does not fit all.”
When Jill recently attended a 90th birthday party at Joules Court, the former carer blushed to be told how “chuffed” the residents were that the Mayor had come to tea!
There is definitely a need for more social housing, Jill believes. And if this comes to Walton with the large housing development proposed for the area? “I will listen to everybody’s opinions and take them into account,” is Jill’s reaction. “The people of Walton should have their say and I would back the majority view.”
Representing voters’ views and trying to sort out their problems is how Jill sees her role as a Town Councillor. She has recently helped resolve the “bollard blues” on the bus-only link road between Tilling Drive and Stone Business Park.
The retractable bollards are electronically operated, but in March, 101 bus drivers found their remote controls would not open them to let their vehicles through. The re-routed buses started missing out the four bus stops on Tilling Drive and Eccleshall Road, leaving passengers stranded. For a couple in their 80s, getting off the bus early from Stafford meant the wife having to wheel her disabled husband down, through and up the underpass on the A34.
The temporary solution of keeping the bollards open itself brought more problems as the link-road became a rat-run.
When a Walton resident complained, Jill contacted First Buses, who have assured her that the bollards are now up again and working drivers having been supplied with the correct transponders to open and close them each time they pass.
“It’s what I’m here to do,” says Jill simply. “If anyone needs my assistance, please contact me via the Mayor’s Secretary Jackie at Stone Town Council on 01785 619740.”
For her mayoral charities, Jill has selected Oak Tree Farm rural project for young people with learning difficulties, Stone Stroke Club, which formerly met in Lotus Court where she was warden, and Katherine House hospice, where her mother spent her final days. “These three charities more or less cover the human lifespan,” is Jill’s other reason for choosing them.
Loyally supporting her will be husband Cliff, who himself uses a stick for support following a brain-tumour operation four years ago. The couple are not letting work commitments or disability hold them back from a second year in the public eye. “Jill’s blossomed since becoming a Councillor,” reveals Cliff. “She was shy when I first knew her, but now she’ll chat to anybody, from a cleaner to a committee chairman!”
“She scrubs up pretty well too,” he twinkles. But Jill and Cliff like nothing better than grabbing their gardening scruffs and getting away from it all on their Tilling Drive allotment. It’s been fertile ground for their peas, beans, potatoes and onions – and for Jill’s political career.