A passion for community drives Debbie, the new Chair of Three Rivers District Council
07th June 2022
A sense of community spirit along with a desire to make a real difference to her neighbourhood were the key factors that Cllr Debbie Morris says inspired her to move into local politics. But it is also clear that she has a deep rooted love for the local area having been a resident for nearly 30 years.
“Part of what makes Three Rivers special is its diversity,” explained Debbie, as she begins her new role as Chair of Three Rivers District Council.
“Our district has great physical diversity – from areas of fairly dense urban development on the one hand to rural enclaves on the other, with more than 75 per cent of green belt, 22 conservation areas, Leavesden Country Park, the Aquadrome. It has a lot going for it.”
Debbie’s engagement with the local council started at Eastbury Residents’ Association where, as a committee member with the planning portfolio, she represented her local community. Local planning is often an issue which can draw people into contact with their council – and it is a subject which can raise tensions and tempers like no other. But planning is something requiring careful thought, attention to detail and an ability to understand planning guidance and relate it to the needs of residents and businesses.
Debbie, a former litigation lawyer, continued: “At the beginning I felt I could make a positive contribution owing to my background in law – and together with the desire to represent my local community, that’s what drew me to serve as a local councillor. It really was community rather than politics which drove me.
Debbie’s tenacity was soon put to good use in district council affairs. For eight years she served on the council’s planning committee: “My legal background has helped me in the chamber to advance points with clarity and precision. I felt competent at reading papers, considering arguments advanced, then identifying issues and weaknesses in them. Consequently, I was able to make positive contributions to the committees I sat on.”
Debbie believes herself to be the first Jewish woman to have been elected Chair of Three Rivers District Council. With her husband Andrew she moved to the district in 1993 and the couple have two grown up children and one grandson. Like many residents, her contact with the district council was initially minimal. She jokes today that her understanding of the council’s responsibilities was once limited to its duty to regularly collect the bins. But her years of involvement have changed that.
“I had no idea how much local government impacts one's life, in many subtle ways. I had no idea for example that Oxhey Woods Nature Reserve - where I used to walk my dogs - is actually maintained by the local authority. I hadn’t really considered the breadth of what local government does because I had no need to.”
One of the duties of the Chair of the council is to support a charity during their year in office. Debbie’s chosen charity is Pets As Therapy – a national charity which aims to ensure that everyone in the UK, no matter their circumstances, has access to regular visits from a friendly pet. The charity has more than 4,000 volunteers who provide a visiting service in hospitals, hospices, residential nursing homes, day care centres, mainstream and special needs schools, prisons and other establishments across the UK.
Debbie added: “I’ve long loved the fact that animals can help humans and this charity pairs ordinary pets and their owners with establishments where their visits can actually make a big difference. I am looking forward to raising some money for them and to publicising what they do.”
Which brings Debbie back to the community spirit which inspires her. “Ultimately it’s the people that make an area special, and we saw in the pandemic there was a coming together of communities across Three Rivers district to help the vulnerable and the sick and that was absolutely fantastic. It was something that I was certainly aware of in my ward.”
Debbie Morris will serve as Chair of the district council until May 2023. You can find out more about her work as Chair and her chosen charity here.