It is still two months until Cambridgeshire elects its first mayor, but Julie Howell has just 15 days to save her campaign.
The Green Party candidate has crowdfunded more than half of the £5,000 deposit she needs to stand in the county’s historic election, but without the remaining money the number of candidates on the voting slips will drop down to six.
Not that the challenge is daunting the Peterborough parish councillor, who is one of just two candidates with strong links to the city.
With an entrepreneurial zeal perhaps not usually associated with the Green Party, she is offering fundraisers direct access to some of the skills she has accrued as a campaigner and confidence coach.
A £600 donation, for instance, will see Julie “help you to write, and coach you to deliver, a kick ass inspirational speech,” on top of a “thank you email from Julie, mention on website, badge, wristband, pen and Green Party mug.”
Two people have so far donated £70, which means instead of receiving help with a speech they will have their CV “expertly reviewed by Julie (after the election).”
Julie, of Orton Northgate, explained: “We were thinking, ‘what can we offer that people actually want?’. It’s the usual thing of badges, wrist-bands, pens, mugs. People like to feel signed up to something.
“I was also thinking, ‘what else can I offer that’s of value to people?’ I am a confidence coach, an interview skills coach. I can offer that and people have taken them up.”
Julie’s speciality is helping people to talk at funerals without crying, but she is not yet ready to deliver her own post-election eulogy despite admitting winning isn’t everything.
She added: “Everybody seems to be very sure it’s a Conservative win. All I would say is you’re saying that before a single vote has been cast. Let’s just remember that.
“What if we stimulate a really high turnout? Then who knows what might happen. I’m reluctant to say it’s impossible. Impossible things happen all the time.”
Julie has had a varied career, ever since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis aged 20 while reading Library & Information Studies at the University of Brighton.
She has been a campaigns officer for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and worked in PR and as a theatrical agent before deciding to go it alone as a confidence coach.
In 2012 she was named the first winner of the
University of Brighton Alumnus Award, in part due to her setting up an online network for people with MS, a condition which she has battled over the last quarter of a century.
“One of the biggest difficulties that a person with MS has to face daily is exhaustion,” Julie added.
“It’s the worst thing. It means that particularly once you’ve had MS for a really long time - I don’t have a problem saying no to things. You manage your time really carefully. That enables me to achieve more than the average person.
“I have a wonderful team at the Green Party, that’s one of the reasons I love them. They just get on with it when I say I can’t do something because I’m exhausted.”
‘Having a reliable bus service is important’
A Green Party candidate who only uses public transport - it sounds like the type of stereotype journalists love.
But that would be unfair on Julie Howell who has never sat behind the wheel of a car because she has MS, with her symptoms including blind spots.
However, her dependence on buses has made her appreciate how important it is for a good public transport service to operate throughout the county.
Asked what her transport priorities would be if she was elected mayor, Julie said: “I rely totally on buses - I just got here by bus. So having a really reliable bus service is important.
“Having trains that are reliable and, ideally, publicly owned, is really important. We will look at how we can open up new rail links, and of course cycling.
“I would like to improve the Green Wheel which is looking a bit sorry for itself. That’s one of the jewels in Peterborough’s crowns and we should be looking at how do we get more people using that.
“But the car has its place - more car sharing is something we would definitely support. But this whole idea about road widening people talk about - well, when you widen a road you are reducing the green space around it, you’re pushing the pollution out nearer to where people are. So we would want to look very, very carefully at it, but we are not ruling anything out to do with cars.”
The Bridge Street cycling ban, she states, is a “debacle.” She added: “It’s absolutely ridiculous. We should never fine cyclists for just existing. There needs to be a cycle path or a route around.”
Julie sits on Orton Waterville and Orton Longueville parish councils and is the joint coordinator of Peterborough Green Party and joint coordinator of Cambridgeshire Green Party.
She admitted she was talked into standing as the Green Party candidate, rather than jumping at the opportunity, but she is warming to her task and is beginning to formulate plans for another one of the mayor’s key policy areas - housing.
“We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of just talking about houses and not talking about communities,” she said.
“I live on a new estate so I know all of the problems there are when you live on a new estate where everything is driven by the property developers’ wants and needs and not by the community.
“People forget that actually there is a need for community facilities. Talking about my experiences in Northgate, we don’t have anything. We don’t even have a post box.
“We haven’t got anywhere to vote, there’s no shops there. Yes they created houses, but it’s like a dormitory town - people just sleep there. There’s no sense of community.”
Developers, Julie adds, throw as many new builds as they can onto an estate with narrow roads. The consequences, she says, are terrible parking and the increased risk of accidents.
As for future homes in Peterborough if she was mayor, Julie said: “We are very interested in fuel poverty and combatting that.”