Tuesday, 16 July 2019

My home town means so much to me, says Mayor

My home town means so much to me, says Mayor

THERE are few people in Henley more “local” than the new Mayor.

Ken Arlett is the sixth generation of his family to live in the town and he himself has been involved in the community for many years, not only as a councillor but as a sportsman and through his work as a builder.

Now aged 70, he plans to concentrate during his year in office on tackling the town’s problems with traffic and air pollution.

That will start with the introduction of a 20mph speed limit later this year but Councillor Arlett also wants to increase the number of parking spaces.

He also wants to push through the redevelopment of the council land next to the Tesco supermarket off Reading Road in order to provide affordable homes and fund a new artificial pitch at Jubilee Park and a new clubhouse for Henley Hockey Club and AFC Henley.

The Mayor, who was a keen footballer when he was younger and still plays golf, says: “There’s money there to do these things. It is just about getting support from the different councils to do it. It is not rocket science.

“This could take a year or it could take two years. We will strive to make it happen. Hopefully, we can get the public on board.”

Cllr Arlett is a member of Henley Residents Group, which strengthened its control of the town council at last month’s local elections when all 12 of its candidates were elected together with three Conservatives and one independent.

He was also one of the three HRG candidates who won seats representing Henley on South Oxfordshire District Council, which the Tories lost control of to a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

His party colleagues chose him to be Mayor, 28 years after he first held the position in the early days of HRG. He admits he was unsure whether to take the role.

He was persuaded during a meeting with his colleagues a week before mayor-making. 

He said that as the new town council seem much more friendly, it helped him make the decision.

He said: “My wife Dorothy didn’t really want to do it again because of last time but she’s more than happy with the way things are going now.

“When we go to events we know many people and everybody is friendly.  In the last council everybody was trying to get a bonus point and one over the other. Now we are all moving in the right direction, which is good for the town. I had the feeling that if I was ever going to do it again this was the time.”

Cllr Arlett was born in 1948 at the Hermitage, a small maternity hospital on the corner of St Andrew’s Road and Vicarage Road, which has since been converted into flats.

Four months after his birth his mother Dora Clarke died from a brain tumour. She was just 33.

She came from Binfield, near Wokingham, and used to go to dances with her friends in Henley, where she met his father Jack and they fell in love.

They had another son, David, 73, who now lives in King’s Road with his wife Sue.

The boys’ father never really spoke about their mother — Cllr Arlett says it may have been too painful for him.

He went to the infant school in Goddall Close, then Trinity Primary School in Vicarage Road, the old Henley Secondary Modern and then Gillotts School, where he was one of the first boys at what had been a girls’ school.

“School was a chore,” says Cllr Arlett. “It was okay but I never wanted to go on to higher education. It was not something that the majority of kids did in my day. We were just looking to get out to work.”

He left school in 1963 aged 15, and became an apprentice carpenter with a small builders called Alf Nunn in Friday Street.

Cllr Arlett recalls: “I spent two years stuck in a joiner’s shop and three years on building sites. It was good and there were a lot of really elderly people there who were really skilled carpenters, so I learnt a lot. I was quite fortunate.”

He also worked on the stake boats at Henley Royal Regatta each year.

When he wasn’t working, he was playing football for Henley YMCA with his brother and friends.

Cllr Arlett says: “Everything was always local — you played football local and you worked local. You didn’t travel far in those days. Nobody had heard of a package tour. Your holiday was a week in Torquay — that was it.

“Many people couldn’t afford a car so most left school and stayed local and just worked local.”

However, young Ken had wider horizons and in 1969 he paid £10 to emigrate to Australia, one of the “Ten Pound Poms”.

He recalls: “I suppose there was nothing here. You were probably going to finish up like your father and his father before him.

“Emigrating just seemed like an adventure. Where else were you going to go for £10?”

He left by boat with Lou Jones, who now lives in Paradise Road, John Hooper, who was elected to the council for the first time last month, and Mr Hooper’s brother Tony, who has now lived in Australia for 30 years.

Their ship docked in Freemantle outside Perth and then took them to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, where Cllr Arlett started working for a company that fitted suspended ceilings and office partitioning.

“Sydney was taking off in those days,” he says. “There was an abundance of work there. They just couldn’t get staff, so you could understand why they were taking anybody.”

He worked there for a year before moving to Perth, driving there with a friend.

He says: “I had got fed up with living in Sydney. I lived down at Bondai and five miles out on the coast. It was nice but you just got bored of the sunshine every day and being down on the beach.

“To me it wasn’t Australia as I had envisaged it. Perth was exactly what I thought Australia would be like. Sydney was really cosmopolitan and you could have been in Greece whereas in Perth everywhere you went you were talking to Australians.

“Perth was pretty young in those days. You went outside and you were in the bush and there were kangaroos jumping around and snakes.

“I had another job there doing handy angle shelving. It was pretty pathetic but it was fairly good money and then I spent six months in the north of western Australia in the big mining sites. We used to build small towns for the miners.”

He met Dorothy at a friend’s 21st birthday party in Perth, where she was working as a secretary for Australian Aerial Mapping.

They soon married and had their first son Scott within a year. (Scott is now 47 and works in embroidery and screen printing in Woodcote while the couple’s other son Daniel, 45, is an RAF squadron leader.)

In 1971, the family flew back to Britain as Cllr Arlett had completed the two years “down under” that he had planned.

Back in Henley, it took some time to readjust. Cllr Arlett says: “For two weeks it was brilliant. Then I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing here? I need to get back to Perth’ but we had spent all our money coming back. We had nothing.

“In those days there was really nothing to do unless you belonged to clubs or organisations and I had kind of lost contact with people.” He went back to playing football for Henley YMCA and restarted work as a builder, setting up a business with his friend Frank Jex in 1975.

They did extensions, new houses, contract work and carpentry in London, Reading and anywhere else there was work.

Cllr Arlett remained with the business until 1990 and a year later, he became involved in politics.

He had built his own house in Greys Road and his neighbour was Kru Zaks, who set up Henley Residents Group. Mr Zaks needed another candidate for the town council elections and asked his neighbour.

Cllr Arlett agreed to stand despite having no interest in politics.

His father once told him that he never wanted to see him on the town hall steps because it used to be the magistrates’ court.

Cllr Arlett says: “He would be quite amazed to see me walking up the town hall steps. I was about 24 when he died. He would have been very proud.”

He says HRG expected to win that first election as the Tories had become lazy and set in their ways.

Cllr Arlett explains: “We felt that the councillors were all old people. We felt they weren’t doing anything for Henley and they were just having 20-minute meetings and would then go into the mayor’s parlour to have a drink and that was it. We just felt things weren’t being done.”

At the election, eight HRG candidates were elected along with six Tories and two Liberals, which led to a bad-tempered mayor-making ceremony.

Cllr Arlett recalls: “For some reason the Tories felt they should still run the council although they were a minority group.”

The Tories and HRG both nominated mayoral candidates but the Liberals abstained from the vote, handing control to HRG.

Cllr Arlett says: “There was obviously uproar that we were going to take control as the Conservatives already had a mayor-elect in place. They were just too arrogant to accept that they hadn’t got control.

“I was chosen to be mayor because I was the local lad. People would respect it better than having one or two people that weren’t as well-known as me. They thought I was the safe bet, which was fine, but it was pretty horrendous at mayor-making when we won.

“Kru Zaks was the mover and shaker. He’d basically worked for two years setting all this up.

“Before the election we had marches in the town, big meetings in the town hall and a no confidence vote in the town council. He’d really done a nuts and bolts job of it.”

He did not stand in 1999 when the Conservatives won back control of the council but rejoined the following year after a by-election victory. In 2003 he ran the HRG campaign and, just like this year, all 12 candidates were elected.

Two years later, he left HRG for what he says were personal reasons and became an independent.

He then stood as an independent in the 2007 and 2011 South Oxfordshire District Council elections but was unsuccessful.

Subsequently he stood for the district council and Oxfordshire County Council representing UKIP but, once again, failed to be elected.

Cllr Arlett is not embarrassed by his time with the party and is still strongly anti-EU.

He says: “I met some really professional people, who were nothing like what was portrayed in the papers or on the TV, and I probably had three good years with them. They were good people to be with. It was a good time.

“I just want to see this country the way I’ve seen it over the last 60 years. I don’t want to see somebody else to run England. It’s as simple as that.

“At the moment we are being dictated to by Brussels and I honestly don’t think that’s where we should be going. I think we need to stop that and I feel a lot of other countries probably feel the same way.”

Cllr Arlett left UKIP after the EU referendum in 2016 because he felt it had become redundant and two years ago he rejoined HRG. He says: “The one thing HRG are good at is lobbying different councils. We have got a pretty good record on that.

“There’s plenty you can do even if you are just a small town council. You can still push your way around a wee bit.

“If you come up with a good idea eventually people will listen as I’ve found over the years.”

He will hope that experience still stands as he tries to achieve his aims by seeking the support of the cash-strapped district and county

Cllr Arlett says: “The district council reckon they haven’t got money but they have. They have got this CIL money, which comes from the new housing.

“So they’ve got about £6 million and I think they should start putting more money back into Henley rather than just taking it out. They take about £600,000 a year out of the car parks. I think it’s about time they started putting something back.

“I enjoy success. The only reason I'm on here now is because you want success. You want to see you've done things.

“I want to have a really good year. I want to enjoy myself and go to as many organisations as I can do and have a chat with them and get a better view of what is going on.

“I would love to sort out the parking problem and the traffic as well. There’s a lot of things you can try.”

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