Dartmouth Town Council
Iris Pritchard - Standing Down
Iris Pritchard is one of Dartmouth’s best known town councillors but with this month’s elections, deputy mayor Iris will be standing down from the council; bidding farewell to a role that has seen her play a big part in the changing face of Dartmouth – and which led to a meeting with the Queen.
“I’ve enjoyed it – but I won’t be standing again,” Iris said. “I’ve been on the council for 26 years, and there comes a time when it is nice to move over and get new, younger blood onto the council. I’m not going to say I won’t miss it, but it is time for new ideas, and time for me to concentrate on the other things I am involved with – hopefully I won’t get bored!”
That seems unlikely. Iris is the president of Dartmouth Caring and regularly waits on tables at the weekly lunch club, as well as attending meetings. She’s on the executive committee of the Townstal Community Partnership, and says both roles keep her extremely busy.
“At Dartmouth Caring we have a great team of volunteers and we all get on really well. We have great fun at the lunch club and it is so important to give company and conversation that people might not have otherwise.
“I’m proud to say I’ve lived in Townstal most of my life and the community partnership is a really effective organisation. We listen to residents’ moans and groans, and good ideas, and we help people access information, particularly through our weekly drop in sessions at the community hall.
“Both organisations keep their finger on the button and keep up to date with people – that is so important.”
Seventy-two-year-old Iris has lived in Dartmouth nearly all her life. She was born in Torquay, but at the age of four her parents separated: “My father was in the Army, and my mother left. I had an aunt in Dartmouth, but she was already caring for my grandparents, so I was fostered and went to live with a lady in Horn Hill Steps. She died when I was about eight, and then I went to live with my aunt at her house in Townstal.”
Iris went to school in Dartmouth. She avidly read books but disliked maths, which made her first job, in accounts at the Dartmouth Laundry, a struggle. She said: “My maths was the worst in the world and I hated it. My old head teacher told me there was a job going with the Boots Library (they had a library in those days) and I went and trained with them – anything to get away from the laundry!”
Typical of women of her generation, Iris gave up work when she got married – to sailor Terry “Taff” Pritchard.
“In those days Dartmouth was a very different place. The river was full of ships – a naval base really. The mayor at the time didn’t want the sailors getting too drunk in the pubs so she started regular dances in the Guildhall, and that’s where most of us met our husbands. The local lads didn’t get a look in when the sailors were there!”
Iris and her husband moved to Saltash then Plymouth, and eventually to Terry’s homeland of North Wales when he left the Navy. But Iris was unhappy there and eventually persuaded him to return to Dartmouth with their three children.
“Coming back on the train I would smell the sea as we passed Dawlish, and see the red soil, and I knew I was coming home.”
The family settled in Townstal and Terry, who died three years ago, joined the town council, encouraging his wife to do the same. Both were independent councillors but didn’t always see eye to eye on local issues. Debates often continued from the council chamber into the home!
“I ran a lunch club at St Clements Church hall at the time so I thought I might get some votes – but I was surprised to be elected, and I’ve been on the council ever since.”
She went on: “I am an independent councillor because I never believed that my private political views should play a part in local issues. I think sometimes politics gets in the way. I just wanted to do my best for people.”
Iris said her favourite time on the council was the development of the Flavel, Townstal Community Hall and the Leisure Centre.
“The councillors at that time were a fantastic group who worked together with the same aim. What we achieved and how we achieved it made the best time of my council career.
“The Leisure Centre is so important and it was something local people really wanted, the Flavel is great for the town (although it has been competition for the Guildhall which has not been good) and the community hall is fantastic for Townstal – extremely well used and a real hub. I’m on the management committee and I see so many groups making bookings, people from all ages and from all over the town.
I believe Townstal is the future of Dartmouth and it is so important that we look after it. It is a big estate and people are often disparaging about it, but they should go and spend time there to find out how many hard working people live there, how many lovely families are there, and that it is not as they think.
“People need to be prepared to change their minds about things. I know some find it hard to adapt to change, but Coronation Park is a good example. I was always against any development there because the park and the orchard are the only green spaces within Dartmouth, but when it was suggested that a car park could be built underneath and the grass above would be put back even better than it is now, I changed my mind. It is a good compromise and I would support it.
“I feel the same about St Clement’s Church. I was furious when I heard that they were going rip apart Dartmouth’s oldest church, but when I saw what they had done I had to say how wonderful it was. It is now my favourite place to go for lunch after a walk with Dartmouth Walk and Talk.”
Walking, words and weeding are Iris’s main hobbies. Compass Point is her favourite walk, and while confessing she’s not a great gardener, she finds weeding, digging and outdoor tidying highly rewarding: “If you need your garden weeded I’m your woman, but don’t ask me to grow anything.”
Words come in the form of historical fiction. Iris has written a number of works set at the time of the War of the Roses, but increasing community commitments have allowed little time for writing in recent years.
However it is a meeting with another female leader that is Iris’s fondest memory of her time on the council. During her time as Mayor of Dartmouth, she was delighted to meet the Queen, introduced at the Lord High Admiral’s Divisions in Britannia Royal Naval College. The women met at a window overlooking the river and chatted about yachts and the view. “It was so relaxed I forgot to curtsey or call her M’am. She was very natural, but elegant and immaculate. It was wonderful to meet her.”
First published May 2011 By the Dart