A full County Council meeting was paused today as Members of all political parties came together to pay tribute to Kent County Council’s Chairman, Mrs Ann Allen MBE, who passed away last month.
Mrs Allen touched the lives of thousands of people in Kent and beyond in her roles as Chairman, County Councillor, Borough Councillor and Parish Councillor, and in the numerous other ways in which she interacted with members of the Kent community. Many people who knew Mrs Allen, including fellow Members and colleagues at KCC, have already paid tribute to her on social media, internally on the staff website, or by sending their tributes to the Chairman’s office. Today (Thursday, November 4) the first full County Council meeting since Mrs Allen died started half an hour earlier than usual to allow Members to speak publicly about the Chairman and share their memories of their late colleague.
Rather than the traditional minute’s silence, there was a minute’s applause for Mrs Allen. Her three children watched the meeting as the tributes to their mother were read out.
Leading the tributes, Kent County Council Leader Roger Gough said: “In the fortnight since we got the shocking news that we had lost Ann, and that we would not have her with us anymore, we have seen a level of emotion and a sense of loss across this council that I, for one, have not seen before. That’s across members of all groups, across officers of the council and also across the much bigger world of the communities, the charities, and the countless people whose lives Ann made better.
“Ann was a model of what a Councillor can and should be. We mourn her today as one of our very finest. But let us also celebrate that we had the great privilege to know her as a friend.”
Vice Chairman Lesley Game said: “Ann was my dear friend, mentor and a most popular Chairman. She was firm but fair and chaired these meeting with grace and good humour. I wish I had had more time to learn from her and I hope I can live up to her memory.”
Leader of the Labour Group on Kent County Council, Dr Lauren Sullivan said: “Ann is a huge loss, of course, and not just to those who cared for her and who loved her, but to Dartford, to Wilmington, to Kent as a whole. I am sure many in this chamber will join in paying tribute to Ann’s work over many, many years on behalf of children and young people. She wished for them to have a voice, to be listened to. Ann saw all children as individuals and took joy in celebrating their achievements and showcasing the very best of our young Kent community.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Kent County Council, Antony Hook, said: “Ann was courteous, caring, honest, straightforward and, in particular, caring about children. Not just children but young people, including young adults of this county. We are deeply sorry to her friends in Dartford and across the county and to her family for their loss.”
Paul Stepto, Leader of the Green and Independents Group on Kent County Council, said: “We send our condolences and sympathy to Ann Allen’s family, friends and colleagues. Martin Whybrow, our predecessor, has asked us to pass on his condolences. Like everyone else, he says he was shocked and saddened to hear the news and that he had tremendous respect for Ann. He recalls her as always friendly and helpful and that her passion and commitment for the young people of Kent particularly shone through. She will be sadly missed by so many people inside and beyond KCC.”
Mrs Allen was first elected to the county council in 1997 and was also a member of Wilmington Parish Council from 1983 and Dartford Borough Council since 1987.
Speaking at today’s County Council meeting, Member for Dartford Rural, Jeremy Kite, who is also Leader of Dartford Borough Council, said: “Ann had no interest in the trappings of office, but office came to her. She was twice Chairman of this council, twice Mayor of Dartford, and she was declared to be The Most Excellent Member of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen. But none of this really mattered to her. To her it was the work, the job, and she used politics to get what other people needed. If she did a good deed her first thought was to do another one. And she spent her life just zooming through our community doing great things for people. We are going to miss her terribly. She was an extraordinary person and, if we miss her, I can’t imagine what her family are feeling. I only hope that they will learn from this process how much we all loved her and cared for her and how valuable she was to all of us.”
Mrs Allen was well known for her work with children and young people, chairing KCC’s Corporate Parenting Panel and serving as Deputy Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education for a time. Sue Chandler, Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, read out a statement from The Virtual School Kent (VSK) Participant Team*, which said: “She has championed our team and our young people right from the start. And we really do think that the team wouldn’t have grown to what it is today if it wasn’t for Ann’s support. She always came to every event and took every opportunity to speak to children and young people. She always remembered peoples’ names and conversations she had had with us previously. This has made our apprentices feel involved and appreciated at the highest level, right from the start of their employment. She always listened and valued young people’s input at Corporate Parenting Panel. We loved her no-nonsense approach and her ability to just get things done, and the cookies she always baked for us!”
A retired catering officer for the Dartford Hospitals and a former foster carer, Mrs Allen was named ‘Woman of the Year’ for her services to the community in 1994. Two decades later she was made an MBE for her services to the community in Dartford and Wilmington. She also held the post of Chief Whip at KCC for more than 10 years.
Mrs Allen will also be remembered for her work with adults with learning disabilities, her keen interest in environmental issues, her gardening skills, and her love of baking cakes. She was very family oriented and was extremely proud of her grandchildren. She died on Wednesday, October 20 aged 76.
Notes to journalists
*The Virtual School Kent (VSK) Participation Team is responsible for encouraging Children in Care, Previously Looked After Children and Care Leavers to speak up, voice their opinions and to help share the services that they receive. The team includes Apprentice Participation Workers, many of whom are care experienced so have a good understanding of what it is really like to be in care. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.virtualschool.lea.kent.sch.uk/vsk-resources/useful-information.php