Dramatic meeting sees mayor and seven councillors resign from council

Temporary traffic restrictions have been put in place on High Street and Bridge Street in Downham Ma

Mayor, deputy mayor, clerk and six councillors resign from Downham Market Town Council. - Credit: Sarah Hussain

A dramatic late-night meeting saw eight councillors - including the mayor and her deputy - resign from a troubled town council.

Jenny Groom, the mayor of Downham Market, announced her own departure as well as six others at the meeting in the  town's Jubilee Community Centre. Her deputy, Jackie Westrop, also said she was stepping down, while the clerk, Elaine Oliver, also resigned.

In an extraordinary statement, Ms Groom said the departing councillors were leaving in protest at the "bullying" they had encountered while serving on Downham Market Town Council.

The resignations are the latest twist in a long-running saga which was first sparked by changes the authority made to the town's market after the first Covid lockdown. These proved unpopular with some people in the town and ever since the council has been wracked with division and turmoil.

There have now been 16 resignations since 2019.

At the meeting, Ms Groom first announced Ms Oliver's departure who she said was leaving to "pursue other opportunities".

Ms Groom then revealed the resignation of six  councillors - Elizabeth Hendry, Alan Pickering, Willow Woodmin, Jo Woodmin, Becky Hayes and Simon Gomes-DaCosta.

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In a joint statement, the six, who did not attend, said it was with regret that they were resigning, calling it an extremely difficult decision. 

Tony Leach standing up at Downham Market Town Council

Tony Leach standing up at Downham Market Town Council - Credit: Sarah Hussain

They said there had been "continued and incessant bullying" of the town clerk.

Their statement said: “The clerk is a loyal, hardworking and valued employer of the council and whilst we did everything in our power to protect her from this harassment due to the inadequate legislation we were unable to do more.” 

Ms Westrop then declared she too was resigning, pointing out that 16 councillors have resigned since the election in 2019, many of them women.

Since becoming a councillor, Ms Westrop said she has faced abuse, including being spat at and no longer feels she can continue.

Finally, Ms Groom announced she was resigning before she and the former deputy mayor walked out of the meeting.

The mayor of Downham Market, Jenny Groom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The mayor of Downham Market, Jenny Groom. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

In a statement she read out, the departing mayor, who has been involved in the council since 1991, said she joined wanting to "make a difference", to support the community, and to help bring a female presence to a council "where women were so under-represented".

She added: "I like to think that over the years we, the team of Downham Market Town Council, have worked together and made a significant and positive difference to the town and community."

Jackie Westrop

Jackie Westrop. - Credit: Downham Market Rotary

Ms Groom said: "For over 30 years I have been used to engaging with councillors through honest disagreements, debates and decision making.

"Where we all worked together in the best interests of the community.

"Sadly, I find it impossible to reconcile myself with any future involvement in Downham Market Town Council.

Downham Market Town Council following resignations of the mayor, deputy mayor and six councillors

Downham Market Town Council following resignations of the mayor, deputy mayor and six councillors - Credit: Sarah Hussain

Following the walkout, a council staff member advised those that were left that they could elect a chair of the meeting or adjourn the meeting.

The remaining councillors decided to continue the meeting, with Robin Pegg selected to chair the remainder of the meeting.

Mr Pegg said he did agree with some of what had been said but not all of it and adding they have "a lot of work to do now".

The chair said: “We’re going to do all we can to get this town back to how it used to be.”

It now leaves the council with just 10 councillors and the town council will have to inform West Norfolk Council of the latest vacancies.