Hardworking Melanie Dickerson just aims to make a difference
She is the animal lover who led the successful campaign to have animal circuses banned from council-owned land in Cleethorpes. In the latest in his series profiling our ward councillors, local government reporter Simon Faulkner speaks to the Conservative Melanie Dickerson.
THEY say that life begins at 40.
And for Melanie Dickerson it was the imminent approach of this important milestone that inspired her to enter politics.
"It was a chance remark that started it", explains the Healing resident.
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"A friend and I were heading up to 40 and he said 40 is a life-changing time – what are you going to do to change your life?
"And I said being on the council might be a good idea. It's no good sitting and watching the telly moaning about things. If you want something doing you might as well go and do it as councils have the power to make changes for the good in people's lives."
Melanie stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate for the Littlecoates ward on Grimsby Borough Council in 1987.
Four years later she was elected unopposed to the seat of Healing on Cleethorpes Borough Council.
Although she wouldn't describe herself as highly political, Melanie had grown up in a Conservative-voting family and she continued the tradition.
"My parents had voted Conservative all their lives. My father was a painter and decorator who worked for himself and he believed that the Conservatives were the party that represented his views.
"I didn't belong to a party but I always voted Conservative."
When Melanie first stood for election she was running her own shop, Sweet Aromas, in Regent Arcade in the centre of Grimsby.
The shop sold pot pourri and fragrant gifts, and later aromatherapy oils, herbal remedies and alternative medicines.
The business, which she started in 1984, reflected Melanie's life-long interest in health – something that has endured throughout her time on the council.
For as long as she can remember, the former Old Clee Primary and Havelock Comprehensive pupil had wanted to become a nurse.
But fate dictated otherwise.
"You could enter nursing at 15 but my father insisted that I was not going into a profession like that until I knew a bit of the world."
So she went to work for local company Lawson And Stockdale at the Bon Marche store in Cleethorpe Road in the curtain and dress fabric department, intending to stay there until she was 18 and ready to go into nursing.
But then she met the man who would become her husband.
"He worked at Lees the Furnishers, where a position arose in its soft furnishings department, I applied and got the job."
Melanie stayed for 16 years, working her way up to the position of bedding buyer, before leaving "with no plans" in 1981. Her husband David is still with the company.
Three years later she established Sweet Aromas, and found the experience of running her own business "absolutely brilliant".
"You are in charge of your own destiny, you can set your own parameters, and make your own decisions. You are able to follow your dream."
Following her election in 1991, Melanie balanced her council and business commitments.
But her re-election onto the council – in the form of the recently created unitary authority of North East Lincolnshire – in 1999, after she had missed out in 1995, was one factor in her decision to close the business after 16 years.
Another was the steady decline of Regent Arcade.
"It was getting a little bit shabby and it wasn't a place I wanted to do business any longer. I did think of starting somewhere new but looking back I think I made the right decision. It was a business which gave us a livelihood for 16 very good years."
Returning to the council after a break of three years, Melanie soon discovered that North East Lincs was a very different animal to Cleethorpes Borough.
"Cleethorpes was a very gentle place. There were politics but not hugely so. It was Labour-controlled most of the time I was there but the leader, the late Alan Green, would always listen to good ideas.
"There was give and take, a commonsense approach. It was for the good of the people."
By contrast, she found North East Lincolnshire extremely partisan.
"Your parentage was questioned at every meeting, and there wasn't a standards board in those days. It wasn't a pleasant experience.
"It was very political. I really feel that whatever your politics there has to be give and take. Just because an opposing party has come with up an idea doesn't make it a bad one.
"I just wish politics wasn't quite so dominant. I think there should be room for people from different parties to talk to each other and that's what happened at Cleethorpes."
Melanie also found that scrutinising the unitary authority was a much more challenging task than it was with a smaller borough council. However, the unitary authority's added responsibilities enabled Melanie to apply her lifelong passion for health to her council work, and for four years she chaired the council's health and wellbeing scrutiny panel.
She admits that being "just a member" is not as rewarding, but insists she has no desire to run for the Conservative group leadership when Keith Brookes stands down in 2014.
"I enjoy being a councillor but I like to be me as well. Being the leader of a political group is a full-time job. It's not my idea of fun."
She hasn't even decided if she will stand for re-election for her Wolds seat in 2015.
"I did say when I stood in 2011 that it would be the last time but I might think again."
A keen gardener and member of Grimsby Flower Lovers, Melanie is keen to get back into her other favourite pastime – volunteering.
She volunteered for 11 years in the orthopaedic outpatient department at the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital, and along with her husband David, volunteered with the Grimsby Old Peoples Welfare Committee – later Age Concern Grimsby – based in Cartergate . The couple were part of the team that started firstly the Pop In Parlour and then the Luncheon Club, which still continues today.
She is also a big supporter of the Operation Christmas Child appeal which distributes gift-filled shoeboxes to 3rd World countries.
Melanie visited Belarus in 2006 and saw for herself the delight these boxes bring to underprivileged children.
The owner of two dogs, around thirty canaries and several goldfish, Melanie is a big animal lover.
"If I won the lottery I would open an animal sanctuary. That's what I'd do with my money."
One of her proudest achievements as a councillor was leading the successful campaign to ban wild animals from performing in circuses on council-owned land in Cleethorpes in the early 1990s.
At that time the circus would set up camp every year on the land just to the north of Wonderland Market.
"I knew the animals weren't treated well. The winter quarters they were kept in were horrendous and I just thought that Cleethorpes, as a go-ahead authority, should not be having circuses like this on its land.
"We showed videos of the winter quarters to the other councillors, and even the ones who had been quite entrenched in their opposition to the ban couldn't believe what they saw.
"The council voted against performing animals on borough land and that carried on to the new authority."
Her role in the campaign should be enough to ensure she gets the epitaph she craves.
"If it says 'she made a difference' on my gravestone, that will do me. I don't want anything more than that."