A woman who turned her life around from being homeless to running Merseyside’s first zero waste store is hoping to make an impact on Wirral Council.
Cllr Emily Gleaves, 34, was one of three new Green Party councillors, along with Cllr Jason Walsh and Cllr Harry Gorman, elected to the council on May 6, after all three took seats from the Labour Party.
The Green gains mean the party now has five councillors in Wirral, with the Liberal Democrats on six and the Conservatives on 23.
Labour remains the largest group on 30, but that is four seats short of a majority.
This situation of no overall control, Green Party councillors believe, gives them a much better chance of pushing what will probably be a Labour-led administration to deliver on more Green goals.
All three of the party’s newly elected councillors spoke to the ECHO.
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Cllr Gleaves, who represents Birkenhead and Tranmere, said that as a teenager she was homeless for around six-eight months and had to “sofa surf” to get by until she could afford a flat of her own.
Tackling homelessness is one of the new councillor’s priorities.
Cllr Gleaves said: “If people are homeless for any longer than six-eight months, they are at risk of becoming another statistic.
“If you help before that it can make a real difference. People can become homeless for many reasons, losing their job, a breakdown, whatever it may be.
“People talk about drink and drugs, but they often come after that.”
The Green councillor now owns the eco-friendly store Waste Not Want Not, which operates from Market Street in Birkenhead.
The shop seeks to eliminate waste in all its processes and offers fruit and vegetables, as well as healthy drinks such as oatmilk, with a major focus on sourcing local, organic products.
Cllr Gleaves thought this experience could add something to Wirral Council.
She said: “I’ve come from a struggling background to run an award winning business. I will try to inject my personal experience on the eco, green side of things in a professional way to try to help things in the council.
“The experience I have had is maybe one that not a lot of people have got.”
Speaking more broadly about her political priorities, Cllr Gleaves added: “With the regeneration of Birkenhead we want to see a zero carbon regeneration and we want the greenbelt to be protected, with biodiversity supported.
“There are more of us [Green councillors] now, hopefully we can make an impact and get our points across.
“A lot of people hear it said that Birkenhead is not a nice place to live and it’s not nice to hear that.”
“We have worked to turn alleyways into nice places. Me and Pat [Cleary, another Green councillor in the ward] go around with volunteers and talk to people.
“It keeps that connection between us and residents and we will use our position in the council to do anything we can to help people.
“Some of the biggest issues here are not just environmental. It’s job opportunities and education also. Not everyone is going to be interested in environmental issues, people might be concerned more with other things.”
The Green Party’s most surprising win in Wirral Council’s local elections was in Bebington, where Cllr Jason Walsh took the Greens from fourth place to defeat Labour's Christina Muspratt.
Cllr Walsh, 34, said the Greens hold the balance of power in Wirral Council, given Labour’s failure to secure a majority.
For him this gave the party more chance of pushing through some of its key priorities including a zero carbon regeneration of Birkenhead and significantly improved public transport and ‘active travel’ facilities, including more support for cyclists and walkers.
Speaking about the plans for thousands of homes in Birkenhead over the next 15 years, Cllr Walsh added: “If we have lots of car parking spaces in new developments there will be less houses and that will probably mean we’ll have to build on the greenbelt.
“We absolutely do not want that. If regeneration is done right we can protect the greenbelt by building on brownfield sites.
“We need more warm homes in Wirral. Wirral does significantly worse for fuel poverty compared to the rest of England."
Another key theme the Wirral Green Party is pushing on is 20mph zones in built-up residential areas, not including main roads.
The Bebington councillor added: “If you are doing 30mph down my road that’s way too fast, but it’s perfectly legal. 20mph is safer, it helps around schools and it makes it a nicer place to live.
“There is support for this in the council.”
Cllr Harry Gorman scored the Green Party’s other gain in the local elections. He was elected in Prenton with a comfortable majority of 794.
Cllr Gorman, 20, said he wants to use the extra mandate the Greens have been given to push forward reforms such as 20mph zones and Green priorities in the regeneration programme for Birkenhead.
But being just 20 years old he wanted to add a new voice to the authority.
Cllr Gorman, the second youngest member of the council after Conservative Max Booth in Moreton West and Saughall Massie, said: “It’s important to have a wide range of different voices in the council.
“In the past because of the way the council works it tended to be disproportionately older people elected who were retired.
“It’s great to see our new cohort of councillors bump down the average age of our group."
Cllr Gorman said his “younger voice” could provide the council with a different perspective from the one usually heard in the chamber and in virtual meetings.
He added: “Typically people my age might be less interested in the council and might not know what it does, but lots of young people’s services have been cut and the provision tends to be for the youngest kids.
“As you get into being a teenager there is far less for you. The council’s budget is very limited, but I want to bring in what young people think to the best of my ability.”
The Prenton councillor said he would also push the council hard to do more on issues including reducing the amount of single-use plastics consumed by the authority to help deliver on the council’s pledge to tackle the Climate Emergency.