Sheringham Councillors Clock up More Than 70 Years’ Service

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Two Sheringham town councillors have been presented with commemorative plates, after between them clocking up more than 70 years’ service to the town.

The efforts of Mac McGinn, who was elected in 1972, and Peter Cox, who was made a councillor in 1980, were recognised at the council’s December meeting.

Town mayor Doug Smith paid tribute to the two community stalwarts, both of whom have also put in many years’ service to Sheringham organisations and good causes ranging from the carnival to the preservation society.

“I think it is extraordinary that Mac and Peter have managed to devote a huge part of their adult lives to community affairs without any remuneration whatsoever,” Mr Smith said.

Both men had worked hard in the town, he added, deserving recognition for their community spirit and for tackling difficult issues, particularly the lengthy battle by Tesco to open a store on Cromer Road.

“As a councillor, you have to put your head on the chopping block at every meeting; it is not an easy job and, particularly in the last 15 years or so, there have been some very contentious issues to deal with,” Mr Smith said.

Mr McGinn and Mr Cox were presented with plates made by Sheringham-based company Stubbs Mugs.

Within two weeks of being made youth and community officer for Sheringham and district in 1964, Mac McGinn found himself marking out the common for the town’s annual carnival.

As a result, he was invited to be co-opted onto Sheringham Urban District Council’s carnival committee and continued to be involved with the annual event for 26 years, serving for six years as carnival organiser.

Mr McGinn, who hails from Heacham, was elected onto the council in 1972. Two years later, the Local Government Act came into force, giving town councils more responsibility, and Mr McGinn was made the newly-formed Sheringham Town Council’s first chairman.

He went on to serve on every council committee, from finance to development, but his main interest was in planning and, on beginning a 12-year stint as a district councillor, he quickly became a member of the planning policy team.

As town council chairman, Mr McGinn was involved in negotiations for the sale of land for the Splash leisure centre on Weybourne Road in 1986, the same year setting up a £7,000 fundraising appeal to restore the town clock, which had been handed back to Sheringham as part of the local government reshuffle.

He also ran Sheringham’s Teen and Twenty youth club for 25 years and was instrumental in getting a pavilion for the town sports ground, but says his proudest moment as a town councillor came in 2001, when he was made Sheringham’s first mayor.

“I came into community services at the age of 16, when I set up a youth club at Hunstanton, and to be invited to be mayor by a community in what I consider to be my home town was more than an honour,” he said.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Mr McGinn is well-known for being a staunch supporter of Tesco’s 15-year battle to build a Sheringham store.

A low point came in 2005 when, shortly after losing his wife Marjorie, Mr McGinn was embroiled in an “anti-French” row after he made a “flippant” remark on the subject of a new twinning link.

The incident turned into nothing more than a “storm in a teacup”, he said, but while he was cleared of any wrongdoing, the row has had a lasting – and somewhat amusing - impact.

“It really was blown out of all proportion, but I still get asked if I want French fries in the chip shop!” he said.

Now 83, Mr McGinn has no plans to end his 40-year stint as a councillor.

“If I retire, then that will be the end of me,” he said. “I’d like to carry on to see Tesco go ahead, being a councillor keeps my brain ticking and, in fact, I’ll put my name forward for the next election!”

Originally from Carshalton, Surrey, Peter Cox has fond memories of family holidays at his aunt’s home in Sheringham as a youngster. He moved to the town in 1952 and, after a number of years working as a window cleaner, in 1984 he opened a second-hand and rare bookshop, which he still runs in St Peter’s Road.

A lifelong history fan, he helped found Sheringham Preservation Society (now Sheringham Society) in 1979. During stints as the society’s chairman, secretary and treasurer, he worked on major projects including Sheringham Museum and the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre.

His interest in local government came about after he was asked to sit in on town council meetings as an observer on behalf of the Preservation Society. Keen to take a more active role, Mr Cox stood for election as a councillor in 1979, losing by just two votes.

However, when a vacancy came up the following year, he was invited to put his name forward and was co-opted onto the council.

“At that time, the issues of the day were very few,” Mr Cox remembered. “It was just six years after the change from urban district councils, and town councils still didn’t have much power – the main things we were responsible for were the cemetery and the commons.”

But times changed and, whereas the town precept was just £20,000 when Mr Cox first became a councillor, it is now £170,000.

“So many things have moved on and developed over the years and a lot more responsibility has been devolved down to the town council,” Mr Cox said.

“But it is only in the last 15 years or so that there has been a great deal of activity, when we have been dealing with issues such as those relating to Tesco.”

The hot issue of the moment, he said, was the new community centre, which has been built in Holway Road.

“It hasn’t turned out to be the plain sailing we had hoped for,” Mr Cox said.

As well as serving as a town councillor for more than three decades, Mr Cox was an active member of Sheringham Chamber of Trade for many years. He was also a carnival committee member for 15 years and was chairman of the annual event for five years.

In his 32 years as a town councillor, Mr Cox has been called on to make a number of difficult decisions and admits that, at times, there have been heated debates, with meetings stretching out into the evening.

“Sheringham Town Council has always been fairly civilised and, although we have had humorous moments during debates, being a councillor is a serious role, so we tend to let that dominate,” he said.

Mr Cox, 63, plans to continue as a town councillor to help ensure Sheringham retains its “unique individuality”.

“I do hope to be able to carry on, just as long as no contention enters the chamber, as I wouldn’t want to expend my energies just arguing,” he said.

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