It was in 1995 that Andrew and Judy Howard decided, together, to commit themselves to serve Petworth in local government.
She as a district councillor for her home town, and he as a parish councillor.
Subsequently she also became a parish member, and then quit the district forum because the council’s daytime meetings claimed too much time from her full-time job.
Now, 16 years on and again in tandem, they have stepped down from what is now become Petworth Town Council. Retirement from their respective ‘day’ jobs, they say, will give them a chance to decide what they want to do, rather than what they have to do, and they have chosen to seize it.
Judy retired in March from her senior position in educational welfare with West Sussex County Council. Andrew is due to leave his school bursar’s job at Redhill this summer.
Both are now reflecting on their time at the grassroots of the local government system, some of it satisfying, some of it frustrating.
And, typing up former parish clerk Don Simpson’s handwritten history of the council from its inception in 1894 to 2000, Andrew has found some it reassuringly familiar.
“Not much changes,” he said. “Some of the complaints today, like the street lights not working, and the rowdy behaviour of youth, were the same 100 years ago.
“If you want a parish council motto, it’s got to be ‘we’ve tried that before’!”
He served as chairman for six years, during which he spent many hours at meetings and discussions at county and district level. Both believe more is achieved if those in the higher echelons of local government see the human faces of the parishes in their area.
Judy said: “Parish councils have more of a place than they did and an opportunity to grow in responsibility and importance, and the other authorities have to take more notice, whether they like it or not.”
Reflecting on achievements during their 16 years, Judy took the lead in getting the town’s now famed Christmas festivities up and running, and in her district role prevented the threatened closure of the district council’s Petworth area office in the late 1990s,
Latterly she also pushed for closer liaison with Midhurst to promote the towns’ joint interests, and an initial meeting has already been held.
Andrew’s involvement in the town council’s finances have put him at the forefront of helping to keep a brake on the parish precept, and ensuring funding from the parish coffers goes to events which are open to the whole community.
His discussions with county officers also won a place in the 2006-16 forward plan for part-pedestrianisation of Petworth’s central Market Square.