Thursday, 21 February 2013

Infectious zest ...

In this week’s Cornish Guardian, I was featured in the “Guardian Country” section written by Michael Williams. It was entitled: “The infectious zest of Dick Cole” and was as follows:

Robert Stephen Hawker, of Morwenstow, was a people's parson and Dick Cole is a people's politician.

Within minutes of meeting Dick you are aware of a man deeply committed to Cornwall and Cornish causes. He is as native as Goss Moor or Roche Rock: his zest infectious.

I drove to Fraddon, where he lives with his wife Ann, on a wet grey Sunday morning, a thick mist blotting out the landscape of Guardian Country. It was the kind of weather Joseph Hocking might have worked into one of his novels.

We talked in his study, lined with hundreds of books. Naturally politics are strongly represented: Isaac Foot, Michael Foot, Jeremy Thorpe, Jo Grimmond, John F Kennedy – an impressive cast of characters.

Despite the grey hair, he looks younger than his 45 years. He was brought up just outside Indian Queens and his family has lived in and around St Enoder Parish for hundreds of years; Chapel people.

His great, great, grandfather John Cole made a bit of history by becoming the very first clerk of St Enoder parish in the late 1800s.

Dick worked as a farm labourer and gardener near Summercourt between 1983 and 1988. He had been educated at Indian Queens Primary School and Newquay Treviglas School, and then achieved three A levels through correspondence courses and was accepted into university.

He studied archaeology and history at St David's University College, Lampeter, from 1988 until 1991 when he graduated. But he continued at the university for the next three years undertaking postgraduate research and teaching work.

In 1994, he crossed the Tamar, going west, settling in his beloved Cornwall, in Clay Country.

He joined Cornwall County Council's archaeological unit and went on to produce over 80 reports for it.

Projects included excavations of the Romano-Cornish enclosure at Killigrew, near Trispen, the Glasney College, at Penryn, and the Perranzabuloe medieval church, near Perranporth. Lost to the sand dunes for two centuries, the church was excavated in 2005.

St Piran, of course, was one of our great Cornish saints. An Irishman, he built his chapel and Cornish people flocked to see and hear him as news of his teaching spread.
Dick married Ann, a fellow archaeologist – they had met at university – at St Enoder Church in 1999.

They were married by Canon Pat Robson, a top-class vicar and the author of The Celtic Heart: An Anthology Of Prayers And Poems In The Celtic Tradition.

Ann now works for the Historic Environment Service. Ann and her husband are both keen supporters of Redruth Rugby Club.

As Dick put it: "It's an ideal way of relaxing. We can forget about our work and we try to get to every home game, and some away matches, too.

"Yes, that Redruth ground has a wonderful atmosphere and history."

We agreed that the preservation of traditional sports like hurling and Cornish wrestling was important. "Our sporting tradition is fantastic," he said.
I asked Dick about his Cornish hero.

He said: "It has to be Richard Jenkin who did so much for Mebyon Kernow and Cornwall.

"You have to admire his doggedness, never giving up, constantly working for a better deal for Cornwall. I counted it a great honour to be one of the bearers at his funeral.

"And then there are ordinary people, they're my heroes too. Working Cornish struggling to make ends meet. They have to inspire you and I have such people in my parish."

I asked him about the River Tamar: "The Tamar is the Cornish natural boundary: this great river helps give us our identity."

Dick joined Mebyon Kernow in 1988 and, four years later, he was elected as press and campaigns officer. In 1997, he was chosen as party leader and has now served longer in that role than anyone else.

Of current MK representation, he reflected: "We have six councillors on Cornwall Council and 20-plus on town and parish councils.

"We shall certainly be contesting the next general election but we won't be making our selection for that until after the Cornwall Council elections in May."

It was Dick Cole who produced the Declaration For A Cornish Assembly, in 2000, which was signed by over 50,000 people and handed to Downing Street in December 2001.

He headed the MK list for the European elections in 2009 when the party polled 11,534 votes in Cornwall – more than governing Labour – and in 2010 he stood in the Westminster parliamentary election, for the St Austell and Newquay seat, when he polled over 2,000 votes.

Typical of Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac, a sign which personifies leadership and a desire for power and promotion, he has a great appetite for service.

He was elected to represent the St Enoder Parish on Restormel Borough Council in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 and 2007.

He was also elected to the local parish council in 1999 and was in the chair there from 2003 to 2005.

Then, in 2009, he came to an important crossroads. He explained: "I resigned from my job as an archaeologist so that I could stand for election to the new unitary council."

He was elected with 78 per cent of the vote and, for the past four years, he's been a full-time councillor, working 45 to 50 hours each week on council activities.
He is chairman of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel and vice-chairman of the Governance Review Panel.

He was a major player in the robust incinerator debate at St Dennis and he is well aware of growing public concern over the erosion of our precious Cornish countryside through more and more wind turbines.

He said that a recent 549-page report emphasised that more work should be done on the impact of turbines on the landscape.

Dick has been personally responsible for more than 35 successful applications for funding on behalf of local groups in St Enoder parish, raising over £480,000 for play equipment and improvements to community buildings, as well as new ones.

Specific examples include over £80,000 towards a new bandroom for Indian Queens Band, built in 2006 and £55,000 towards a new skatepark and multi-use games area for the Indian Queens Recreation Ground in 2011.

It is an impressive list and there's no doubt he'll be motivating further worthwhile projects in the future.

If there were more Dick Coles, Cornwall would be a better, more purposeful, place. Yes, Mr Hawker would be proud of him.

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