A chance to serve your parish

THE general election might be over, but Guernsey’s parish elections are still to come.

In total across the island, more than 45 douzenier and constable terms of office are coming to an end and a new Women in Public Life campaign is trying to encourage more women to consider putting themselves forward.

All positions are open to new candidates from the relevant parish and the deadline for nominations is next Monday.

In 2019, there was only one contested parish election in the whole island. Just one candidate stood for the majority of parish positions and four douzenier seats attracted no candidates at all.

Shelaine Green, chair of Women in Public Life, said: ‘It is a such a shame that, traditionally, there is much less interest in our local elections than our general election, from both candidates and voters. Some women have joined their douzaine recently, including Victoria Robinson in the Vale who was only 26 at the time. But still, nearly 80% of our douzeniers and constables are men.

‘Encouraging more women to consider the roles seems an obvious way to increase the number of candidates for parishioners to choose from. Being a douzenier can be easily fitted in with work or caring responsibilities.

‘Every parish is different but the commitment and enthusiasm of the people who actively volunteer to keep their local area thriving is the same.’

Women in Public Life is a group of local volunteers that aims to inspire the women of Guernsey to stand for a variety of roles in public office. The group launched in January with a well-attended event that introduced women considering public office to people already doing the roles and those who recruited them.

  • To find out more about the roles of douzenier and constable, see video interviews with current parish officials and find out how to stand for election, visit www.womeninpubliclife.gg.

  • Call or visit your local douzaine room or constables’ office to find out about the positions available in your area and to obtain a nomination form.

Vale douzenier Victoria Robinson. (28814507)

Victoria Robinson, Vale douzenier:

I was elected as a douzenier for the Vale parish in December 2019.

I started contemplating standing following a visit to St Peter Port douzaine, led by one of the constables, as part of my training to become an accredited tour guide. This visit gave me a fantastic overview and introduction to the work of the douzaine and the variety of tasks it is responsible for. The ability to contribute to the area in which you live greatly appealed to me.

Before I stood, I spoke to an existing Vale douzenier to get a bit more of an idea of what the time commitment was as it is something I would be doing around a full-time job and other commitments.

I found the election process very straightforward. It consists of filling out a simple form and being nominated by two different people who live in your parish who are on the electoral roll. This can be anyone – it doesn’t have to be someone already on the douzaine. Once the form is submitted, the nominees and the names of those who have nominated them are printed in the Gazette, along with the date of the parish meeting at which the elections will happen.

The constables and douzaine of each parish are elected officials tasked with administering parochial affairs and are responsible for parish funds. The douzaine oversees a wide range of parish matters and these include refuse collection, parish rates and managing parish property and other areas such as moorings and cemeteries. Some of the most well-known roles of the douzaine are the twice-yearly stream and hedge inspections. Douzeniers will be involved with these, often inspecting areas of the parish as a group.

As well as that there are a variety of other roles that individuals will be involved in such as being members of parish sub-committees or being a member of the States of Election when a new jurat needs to be elected.

Douzeniers are also required to attend and contribute to douzaine meetings each month at which a variety of matters relating to the parish are discussed.

Being a douzenier has been an entirely positive experience for me so far and for a relatively small time commitment you can really make a difference and contribute to your local area.

I would highly recommend it to anyone who is considering standing. If you have an interest in your parish, commitment to the role and a willingness to contribute then you will be well suited to the position.

So far in a short space of time I have already experienced some of the many things that being a douzenier has to offer. I’ve been to court to be sworn in, I’ve been a member of the States of Election and attended the monthly douzaine meetings. All of these things have been incredibly interesting and I know there are still many areas to learn about and experience.

Often people will comment to me how great it is to see a younger person getting involved in the douzaine. I feel that my generation has a responsibility to get more involved with roles such as these as it will be down to us to carry them on into the future. I see it as a fantastic opportunity to learn from other like-minded people who also have a passion for their local area and are very experienced and I hope this will set me in good stead for the future.

St Sampson's douzenier Leonie le Tissier. (28798461)

Leonie Le Tissier, St Sampson's douzenier:

I AM in the third year of my term as a douzenier for St Sampson’s parish. I have one year left. After that, I most probably will stand again for election as I have enjoyed and grown into the role.

I have always been interested in what is going on around me and I wanted to do something in the community and get more involved. My late father-in-law also inspired and encouraged me; he had been part of the Vale douzaine for many years before becoming a deputy.

I confess I hadn’t actually been to a parish meeting before so I didn’t know what to expect really. St Sampson’s douzaine held an open morning before nominations were due and I found this very informative. Once I submitted my form, the constable and office clerks were very helpful in explaining how the election would happen. I did rally friends, neighbours and family who lived in the parish and were on the electoral roll to come and vote for me, which definitely helped get me elected as there were more people standing than seats. I didn’t have to speak but my proposer gave a small speech about me and why they thought I would make a good douzenier.

The role is very interesting and it takes a little bit of time to learn and understand. You attend a monthly meeting where many issues raised by parishioners are discussed; it could be anything from traffic problems to planning matters to waste plus so much more. There are many sub-committees and depending on your interests and skills, you find those that suit you best. You get involved in stream and hedge inspections and you try and find resolutions for parishioners, often by liaising with other States committees.

Historically, I believe less women stood for public office roles because to balance family life and working is difficult and tiring, so to add anything further into the mix may have put them off. This would have been the case for me, but I can’t speak for everyone. However, there is a lot more ‘sharing’ of roles today, so I expect this to change.

Anyone thinking of standing should try to attend any open sessions that are held by their douzaine or talk to existing douzeniers. They should listen to their parishioners and try their best to find resolutions but know that it is not always possible.

I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy my role and it’s definitely the case for me that the more I put in, the more I receive through knowing that I am serving our parishioners.

St Martin's douzenier Mary Collins. (28813282)

Mary Collins, St Martin's douzenier:

I have been a douzenier for nearly two years in St Martin’s parish.

A friend was already a douzenier in the parish. I also felt I could help and would enjoy the experience.

Like many elections within the parish, I stood unopposed to become a douzenier.

Each parish works differently. St Martin’s have a number of committees – events, property and environment, welfare, floral, civil emergencies, cemetery and schools. I am on events and our role was and still is fundraising towards parish events, especially the Liberation celebrations which hopefully will happen in 2021. I’m also on the floral team.

I think the reason women are under-represented in public office roles may be because they believe it would take up too much time or it’s all ‘men of a certain age’, but you could change that.

Your commitment is one meeting each month and some time assisting in whichever committee you are on. You get a lot of support if you are unsure about anything, the parish clerk is a mine of information.

I would say if you enjoy your parish and want to know how ‘the bones’ of it works – how your rates are prepared and how they are spent, if there is something you feel you could do to improve the parish, get involved. It can be very interesting and rewarding.

What do douzeniers and constables do?

The main commitment for a douzenier is the monthly meeting of the douzaine, called by the senior constable, to discuss parish affairs. Several parishes publish summary minutes of these meetings.

Douzeniers also assist the constables in caring for the parish. For example, douzeniers check the hedges and streams in their canton (sub-division of the parish) in June and September.

Douzeniers may also be asked to focus on a particular aspect of the work of the douzaine, or join a specific sub-committee. A sub-committee might produce the parish magazine or organise the parish’s contribution to Floral Guernsey.

The two constables are the executive officers of the parish and have a more extensive and hands-on role, in conjunction with the parish staff. They are responsible for the collection of parish taxes and accounting for how those funds are spent. They make sure parish assets like the douzaine room and the parish cemeteries are well maintained. They are the point of contact for the States and for the media.

Constables are ‘summoned’ to the ancient Court of Chief Pleas once a year, attend an annual Chief Pleas dinner with the Bailiff and the Lt-Governor and are invited to a garden party at Government House for the Queen’s birthday. All of the island’s constables have an informal meeting twice a year to share experiences.

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