Cllr Jessica Powell, of the Pontnewydd ward, will be the the last mayor of Torfaen when she steps down next month. ANGHARAD WILLIAMS spoke to her about the role and how she balances being mayor and a mother.

“I’M FROM Cwmbran. My family lived in Croesyceiliog and then we moved Northville when I was about six.

We were not a political family. I was always into history and wanted to be a teacher and I studied politics at A Level.

My mum was a stay-at-home mum and my dad was a machine fitter at Girlings. He had an accident when I was about 10 and slipped a disk in his back. He had an operation but it didn’t work, so growing up and seeing how he lost his job and had to depend on benefits was the most political thing in our lives. It was hard.

South Wales Argus:

I only really started getting interested in politics in my third year of university. I studied at Murray Edwards College, the women-only college at the University of Cambridge.

Then there was the elections in 2010 and that really got my interest.

I moved back home and I joined the Labour party that summer.

I had been home two weeks and our local councillor, Nye James, came and asked me to come to some branch meetings. If it wasn’t for Nye I would not have got involved in politics.

Before that I would never had thought of going into politics. They asked me to go out to canvas and suddenly I was getting involved.

I worked for a youth charity for a while and then a depression charity. Then I started doing a masters in Newport.

It was there I met Anthony Bird, who would become my husband, who was an undergraduate and I was doing some student lecturing.

He was really into politics. The first time I met him we were on a trip to St Fagans and he was standing as a councillor at the time for the Conservatives in Newport’s Gaer ward.

The first few times we met we did not get on well at all, but we ended up getting together and he switched to the Labour Party. I wore him down.

In 2011 Nye was standing down. Under the party rules you have to have a woman in a three party ward and he asked me to stand. The proposition was that I wouldn’t get in but that it would be good experience for me.

I agreed and went through selection. I 2012, when I was 23, I became a councillor.

At the count everyone was nervous but I was OK because I knew I had my job. Anthony was at his own count and called me early on because he had lost.

When they announced I had been voted in I was shocked.

We had a two week block of training and it was really weird because a year before I had never even been into Torfaen Council’s offices.

Brian Mawby, my fellow Pontnewydd councillor, was a big influence on me.

My other fellow councillor David Daniels is only a year older than me, but I would be the youngest person at meetings and events. Even now I will walk into a room and I realise I am a lot younger than everyone else.

I never had a problem with other councillors or council staff, but I would feel it more with the public.

At one of the first meetings I went to someone said it was nice that I had come along to support my dad. It’s not nasty or anything, but you do feel you have to prove yourself sometimes.

People on their doorsteps will sometimes say ‘I didn’t realise you could be a councillor so young’ or ‘It’s strange to see a woman’ and I hope that people will think they can do it to.

This year as mayor I would like to inspire people to get into politics. I would like to see more young women in civic life.

Being a councillor is challenging, but it covers such a breadth of things. One day you’re setting a budget of millions of pounds and another day you are dealing with the fact that someone’s bins haven’t been collected.

I like that my days are varied and that there’s always something different. I have learnt a lot and have had to have a crash course in a lot of things.

I was always interested in mental health, education and charities but I have become more interested in the policy side of things.

Being in the constituency where you grew up you know a lot of people and I live two streets away from my Mum and Dad.

I became a mum to Marianna in 2015 on New Year’s Day, she was almost two weeks overdue.

South Wales Argus:

I was the first councillor to go on maternity leave, and these are things you never think of that. In Westminster MPs don’t still have an automatic right to maternity leave, and you think they are making the laws but they haven’t caught up yet.

People say you change after having a kid and it is true. Your priorities change completely.

It has been a challenge balancing motherhood and work. I lot of times I have to take her with me when I do my work as mayor.

Cllr Bob Wellington was the person who suggested that I go for deputy mayor in 2016. Once I started doing the role I realised it was an amazing role.

I was worried that in the 2016 elections I might not get elected again. I was canvassing in Pontnewydd with Marianna in a pushchair. She likes going places and she was quite shy when I began, but she has grown in confidence.

This time I was sick all night with nerves, but thankfully I was re-elected.

I became mayor on May 23, 2017 and succeeded Cllr Veronica Crick. It is a huge honour. When I first got elected as a councillor I supported getting rid of the role, but seeing what the role is and the community engagement aspect has changed my mind.

South Wales Argus:

I love the work at schools and having the school children in the chamber and doing a mock council.

I have also done a lot of random stuff like opening toilets where I have a ribbon made of toilet roll. I also opened the Men's Roller Derby Association’s championships and blow the started whistle which was amazing.

You don’t know from one week to the next what you’ll be doing.

South Wales Argus:

When I wear the chains people tend to stare, but you get used to it. You forget you have them on.

I am in my last month now and I have a few things to do. I am sad that I will be the last mayor, but I understand why it has to be done.

I couldn’t have done it without my family’s support.

I got married on February 23 in the registry office in the Civic Centre. We had the reception in the community hall where my Mum and Dad had theirs.

Anthony organised it all and until the last moment I was worried, but it wonderful. Marianna was my bridesmaid.

I have a parenting blog, Babi a Fi, and I will continue to work on that.

I hope that I have changed perceptions. I hope some of the girls I have met get inspired to go into politics."