On the farm with Cheshire East council leader, Rachel Bailey
00:00 15 February 2017
Cheshire East council leader Rachel Bailey tells Mairead Mahon that family, farming and politics are firmly on her agenda
Fellow councillors know when the leader of Cheshire East Council, Rachel Bailey, is determined to get something done, as she will appear shod in her highest heels!
‘Well, I’m only five foot two and a quarter inch -that quarter inch is very important- so yes, I suppose they do give me an extra boost. I can quite understand Theresa May’s much publicised obsession with shoes, although alas, none of mine are designer,’ laughs Rachel.
Not that Rachel needs high heels to get things done as the former medical secretary is an undisputed ball of energy and determination. Well she has to be; as well as being leader of Cheshire East, she is also a wife and mother and is very involved with the family farm at Audlem. Set in 400 acres and with a 280 head dairy herd, it sounds like a life where wellingtons might be more appropriate than heels of any sort.
‘I believe in the right shoe for the job and anyway, I’m no stranger to wellies! I was brought up on my parents’ farm and was expected to do my fair share. I met my husband, Steven, at a Young Farmers’ event and, even though he is seven years younger than me, we became very good friends before falling in love and getting married.’
Rachel and Steven have now been married for over 30 years and have two children, Amanda, a solicitor, and Robert who is also a farmer. Even before a political thought entered her head, Rachel was very involved with the local community including holding that most important of positions: Brown Owl.
‘The rural community is hugely important to me. Too often, people think that simply means the farming community but as anyone who lives rurally will tell you, it’s people from all walks of life. In fact, it was when a very important part of our rural community, the school, came under threat that I first became involved with a campaign and that was to keep it open. Both my children were educated locally and it was hugely important to me that others had this choice, so it seemed obvious to me that something needed to be done,’ says Rachel.
Something certainly was done and the campaign was a success. Her parents and Steven were proud of her but her efforts had come to the attention of others and one day, when she was watching TV, a call came asking her to stand as a councillor and so, in 1998, her political career began.
‘I was a bit taken aback although not quite as much as Steven, who fell silent for a week: quite a feat in this house which is usually so full of noise! Anyway, I said I’d do it for a year!’
In fact, the first thing Rachel had to do was to find somewhere to work: not easy, in a house that is never empty and so, maybe surprisingly, she chose the kitchen or more specifically, an old oak table that has been the family dining table for decades.
‘It looks out over the courtyard, a favourite view of mine and besides, it meant I was still at the centre of my home. In a farmhouse kitchen, there is always someone wandering through, usually in search of food! In the early morning though, it is a peaceful place to sit and gather my thoughts, usually over a bowl of homemade porridge that I’ve made the night before. I make it with our own raw milk and it sets me up whatever the day ahead may hold,’ laughs Rachel.
Rachel’s kitchen is a stylish one and she used a legacy from her late mum to install it.
‘I spend so much time here either working at the table or cooking that I feel particularly close to her. The Aga is a Godsend, as I can make meals and pop them in it to keep warm, ready to be eaten by the next hungry person who wanders through.’
Today, as leader of the third largest unitary council in the North West with a budget of £235 million, Rachel has been allocated two offices but she still uses that oak table regularly.
‘And don’t forget my car! Many women have large chunks of their lives in their car and I’m no different: it’s my mobile office, as well as a place to touch up make-up and take a trip down Memory Lane listening to the songs of my youth!’ laughs Rachel.
When she does get some time to herself, Rachel is a pretty good tennis player and enjoys walking around the local countryside with her dogs, Bolt and Wiggins. You don’t need to be Miss Marple to figure out who they were named for.
‘No, that’s true, ‘laughs Rachel. ’Wiggins particularly keeps alive last year’s memory of the prestigious Tour of Britain, a leg of which took place in Cheshire East, including a challenging section which took in the Cat and Fiddle A537 road. It was such an immensely proud moment for me when Cheshire East was chosen and, judging from the letters I received, for many of our residents.’
Rachel keeps all the many positive letters and notes that the people of Cheshire East send her in an archive that will take pride of place in her family’s history; alongside the many shields and trophies that the farm has won.
‘My family are proud of me but you know, I’m just an ordinary woman -a wife and mother- who farms in this area and who wanted to be involved in my community,’ says Rachel.
Maybe so, but Rachel’s achievements have been extraordinary and, as she celebrates her first year of being leader, we can look forward to seeing more of her whether it’s in heels or wellies!
Rachel was elected in 1998 as a Conservative councillor representing Audlem ward for Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council.
She has held various council posts including in 2012, Portfolio Holder for Children and Families, at around the time that OFSTED had judged safeguarding services to be ‘inadequate.’ Under Rachel’s direction, they were re-assessed as ‘good’.
In February 2016, Rachel became Leader of Cheshire East Council.
She is also Chair of Cheshire Young Farmers’ Clubs Trustees. She was President of Cheshire Young Farmers’ Clubs in early 2000 and is an honorary Vice President.
Rachel also serves on the Audlem Education Foundation and Burleydam Trustees.