Wiltshire Council’s new deputy leader was “genuinely surprised” when she was asked to take on the role.

Philip Whitehead, the previous leader of the council, had been expected to carry on his leadership, prompting a reshuffle when he announced he was stepping down.

Richard Clewer, as he prepared to take over as leader asked Laura Mayes, who represents Bromham, Rowde and Roundway, to be his deputy.

“I was genuinely surprised,” she said.

“I had expected Philip to carry on and Richard to stay on as deputy. I told him I’d think about it, and took the dogs out for a walk.”

After a meander through the fields of Roundway, with four-legged-friends Otto and Sanca, Cllr Mayes decided to take on the challenge.

“I realised that I would be really pleased to do the job.

“ I’ve been cabinet member for children services for eight years, and realised being deputy leader would be an interesting challenge on top of that brief.”

Mrs Mayes first got involved in local democracy when she became a parish councillor in 2009, after a planning issue arose.

Shortly after, she was asked if she would stand as a district councillor - for what was then Kennet District Council.

Within a month of being elected, in 2009, Wiltshire Council was formed in its place.

Local issues, such as the provision of youth services, formation of Silverwood School and a long-running battle against increasingly pesky gulls, followed over the course of the next 12 years.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of people working “behind the scenes” in people’s services, she said, with the likes of school teachers and care workers forced to adapt amid an onslaught of new rules and changes.

Laura Mayes wants to highlight ‘extraordinary’ work of behind the scenes staff in people’s services

Laura Mayes wants to highlight ‘extraordinary’ work of behind the scenes staff in people’s services

As both a local councillor and a deputy, Mrs Mayes has set out her main priorities for the future of the county.

“My interest lies in peoples services. It is easy at election time to think all the council does is bins and roads, but there is so much behind the scenes.

“I want to make sure people in Wiltshire have access to opportunities and support when they need it.

“That could be a new mum finding out about where she can get childcare, to someone who perhaps realises their partner has dementia and needs our service.

“I feel like I’m an ambassador for our staff because they do an unbelievable difficult job in sometimes not great circumstances, and are often dealing with people who have reached quite a low point. These dedicated staff day in day out do these extraordinary things, and really are unsung heroes.”

There are a variety of pressing issues Mrs Mayes looks to face in her own ward area, such as the delicate handling of future housing and how to combat an increasingly aggressive gull population. A project on the latter is being developed with the Devizes Area Board.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Devizes town and parish councillors are publicising the referendum on neighbourhood plan.  L-r are cllr Laura Mayes, Philippa Morgan ((trust for Dvizes), cllr Diane Carey, dep town clerk Simon Fisher, cllr Judy Rose, cllr Albert Wooldridge and cllr Chris

In terms of housing, the area cannot remain static, said the councillor, but that new homes would need to meet local needs.

The ongoing saga at Furlong Close, the care facility in Rowde, is an issue that now falls into her ward area, following the election. Families have campaigned for the unit to be saved from closure.

She met with families last week with councillor Jane Davies, the new cabinet member for adult social care, with further updates hoped from the council in the coming weeks.

On a county-wide level, Cllr Mayes is also leading the charge for Wiltshire Council’s major recruitment for foster carers.

The local authority wants to recruit 100 or more, this year and have nearly hit the halfway mark.

“We want Wiltshire families to look after Wiltshire children,” she said.

She is also promoting the Shared Lives Service, which helps people live as a family within a carers home.

Shared Lives carers provide support with daily tasks, from personal care and accessing health services, to making decisions and learning new skills.

Mrs Mayes added: “We just have to keep improving our services, and ask ourselves if we are doing things better than before, and how we can keep improving so that Wiltshire is the best place in the country to live, which I think it is.”

“People can criticise councils for being slow and lumbering, but I don’t see that. I see a real can do attitude of people asking ‘how do we solve this?’

“That’s what I saw during covid, we have a versatile and nimble organisation that can move fast when they need to meet our residents’ needs.”