When Richard John became the newly-elected Leader of Monmouthshire County Council in May this year, he became a key custodian of a County that many regard as one of the most beautiful in Wales (and the UK) – an area that contains the Black Mountains, Wye Valley and many historical monuments within its borders. It’s also home to c.95,000 people living across a largely rural county that includes towns such as Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow, Monmouth, and Usk.
We spoke with Richard about the key drivers that motivate him – and his future hopes and ambitions for a unique county and a fast-evolving region.
The feeling of community and sense of belonging is vital to all of us as human beings
“I’ve always been interested in community life – and always believed that the feeling of community and sense of belonging is vital to us as human beings. As a Ward Councillor I tried to help people take as much pride as they could in the place that they live – enjoying the camaraderie and feel-good factor of taking part in regular litter-picks and makeovers of local facilities including bus shelters. I’ve even found myself instinctively wiping the mud from road signs on deserted country lanes – because ultimately I think it’s that sense of citizenship, of feeling part of something special that makes us want to nurture and improve everything that we can. We’ve seen some outstanding examples of that during the pandemic, of course – for some people, they may even have felt part of their community for the very first time during the emergency of the last 15 months – and I want to build on that ‘community capital’ right across the county.
I want to build on that ‘community capital’ right across the county
“The past year or so has seen us do everything to support everyone in any way we can. The minute the Welsh Government announced financial help for businesses, we paid out to them right across our County, even before we received the government funding – and we have made business recovery, especially in the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality, a big priority. But this is about the wellbeing of individuals as well as businesses. The physical and mental health of everyone is a critical part of our recovery as a county – helping everyone feel safe and ‘ok’.
“So one of our key focuses is on improving our leisure facilities to help people, especially those who suffer inequalities in terms of health and income. How can we help people take more responsibility for their wellbeing? How can we encourage people to go to a dance studio, a film club or simply a coffee and a chat at the local leisure centre? We’re proud that we run our leisure services and outdoor attractions in a commercial way, because that means they can be sustained, but like anywhere else we have communities that suffer from hidden poverty, income inequalities and deprivation – and we’re proud to be working with cross-party support to remedy this. For us, that’s a huge part of levelling up and spreading inclusive prosperity is a key part of building back better – and creating ‘one community’.
There’s a strength in having diverse views, both here in Monmouthshire and right across Cardiff Capital Region
“I’m very fortunate to be building on the work of Peter Fox, the newly-elected MS for Monmouth, who led Monmouthshire council so impressively for 13 years up until his election to the Senedd last month. Peter has been a tremendous mentor to myself and many other colleagues on the council – he’s one of the key reasons why we now have Councillors aged in their 30’s, 40’ and 50’s as well as their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – and that diversity of support and knowledge, of being able to seek the thoughts of different people with different life experiences, is very important to me.
The strength of Cardiff Capital Region is in its diversity too – it's shaped from varying opinions, all held for the common good. That ‘Common Good’ is what we’re working for here at Monmouthshire and what we’re working for right across the region: continually striving to build upon what we have already achieved and constantly looking to improve the lives of every person in every community.
“I’m looking forward to working with and getting to know the nine other leaders of CCR – not least because we now have the chance to become a bigger player on the national stage, working with both the UK and Welsh Governments for the benefit of everyone in the region.
We already have an impressive pipeline of investments and as we morph into a more strategic entity, I am confident we will achieve even more together.”