We look forward to welcoming visitors and speakers to Northgate throughout the year. On Tuesday 19th March over 40 of our Team Council and School Council members were invited to a talk by Breckland Council Leader, Sam Chapman Allen.

Sam gave a bit of an insight into his background: when he was at school he was on the School Council to try and make a difference and speak out for people, at 19 he became the youngest District and Town Councillor in the Thetford area however said that he lacked life experience particularly when talking to constituents about housing issues. He worked for the Ministry of Defence in the air force for 9 years and also on boats in the North Sea before working for the housing minister in London, helping to shape policies.

Sam explained that as Leader of Breckland Council he represents over 134,000 people in the district, over 500 square miles. He gave students the chance to come up with ideas as to what Breckland Council are responsible for, some of which they got correct however the list was rather long and this didn’t include everything – some roads, subsidising transport, waste, repairing public buildings, clean water, noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour and enforcement, fly tipping, all of the elections, licencing, housing, working with the homeless and travellers, Dereham Leisure Centre and more. He said that one of the main reasons he become the Leader was he ‘wanted to make a difference – everyone has the ability to change something if you are willing to put the work and effort it.’ This seemed to ring true with the School Council members.

Sam said that some of his main aims are to support the community and those who are vulnerable, including supporting those experiencing social isolation, the elderly community, those suffering from domestic abuse and those with mental health issues.

Sam explained that being part of the council is on a voluntary basis and whilst he can put in up to 50 hours a week doing council work, he still has a job which is then paid. Just this week he had a meeting at Wayland prison, Banham Zoo ecology department, a meeting in Cambridge, one in London and another with the National Farmers Union – it sounded exhausting! As part of his paid work, Sam works with the RBS doing leadership and management consultancy as well as working with other Councils in an ‘Ofsted’ style manner.

Before a question and answer session, Sam left the students with a thought, ‘never say no to an opportunity as a door will shut, if you say yes the door remains open, you can always walk through and then decide afterwards it’s not for you after you’ve given it a go. Never be afraid to say yes.’

Next up came some fantastic questions from students ranging from what Sam’s dream job would be if he had his time over again (it happened to be a dentist) to what the council may be doing to support people with mental health issues. They are currently working alongside the Breckland Youth Advisory Board and a 2 part project, firstly to raise awareness in schools and make students aware that there is not a stigma attached to those who are suffering with their mental health, but to try and talk about it. The second part will be to work with schools and parents to help spot symptoms and support those who are suffering, training mental health first aiders.

Miss Theobald thanked Sam for coming and giving such an informative insight into the life of the Breckland Council Leader. There is certainly a lot more to the role than we had all imagined. We hope this will now lead to further work with Sam, inviting him to a School Council meeting and some of our students giving a presentation to the Council cabinet on recent eco successes and initiatives.