Stella Parkes is the mayor of Stroud and serves as a town councillor.
Stella attended Cashes Green Primary and then Stroud High. She left Stroud to seek her fortune but realised that the best place in the world is the town she was born in and wanted her son to experience the same joyful childhood as she had so they moved back home. It also meant her son would be near his grandparents.
Stella’s career has been diverse, working as a careers advisor, journalist, education business partnership manager, and even did a little teaching before moving into corporate communications. She worked for Gloucestershire County Council and South Gloucestershire Council before ending up in the charity sector. She ran a charity shop in Stroud and has been involved with Stroud Valleys Project for more than 30 years.
When are you at your happiest?
It has to be sitting quietly in nature, ideally near a tree. Trees are truly extraordinary. I am particularly fond of yews as they live for centuries and I just wish they could tell us what they have witnessed in that time.
What has been the scariest moment in your life?
There are two key moments. The first was at an anti-apartheid demo in Manchester in 1969 where I got trapped at the front with the crowds pushing from behind and the police trying to push us back using their riot shields. It was frightening and difficult to breathe because of the pressure and I am now very nervous of any kind of crowd.
The second was getting stuck in a packed lift at Ebley Mill when I was a journalist. We were stuck for an hour and there was no magical “Hollywood” moment of the firefighters climbing through the ceiling to rescue us. We had to wait until they sorted the jammed mechanism (Lifts have a weight limit for a reason!) That didn’t help my anxiety about crowds and small spaces.
What has been your biggest disappointment?
Not being able to tap dance. I was brought up watching Fred Astaire films and was desperate to try. I gave it a go in my 40s but it was no use. The only thing I learned was how uncoordinated I am. I also can’t swim but I blame that on High School swimming lessons in Stratford Park lido in May where you practically had to break the ice before getting in. The lido is a wonderful place when it warms up a bit and I am so glad we still have it as well as a group who actively campaign to look after it. It is a wonderful community asset.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I love chocolate and I am not fussy, anything! I used to eat a bar a day (not telling what size, that’s my secret) until I was told off by my GP who said I had to cut back unless I fancied diabetes, which I don’t. So now I ration myself and enjoy what I can have. I enjoyed my 10 Minstrels today.
Who is the most famous person on your phone?
You’ll be disappointed with this one. There is no one famous on my phone. Instead I am fortunate to have cherished friends and family contacts and wonderful community contacts who do so much to make our town so special.
What is your favourite smell?
Petrichor – the smell of earth after rain.
Who would play you in a film about your life?
Margot Robbie (Barbie) as the young Ms Parkes then Meryl Streep as the vintage one. Don’t worry, we are not looking at Mama Mia! I can’t sing for the life of me – maybe it all ties in with my inability to tap dance!
What do you like most about living in the Stroud area?
Stroud has a rich heritage of being a creative and spirited town – the establishment of the Sub Rooms is an example of that. Stroud has this amazing combination of a creative and caring community and beautiful scenery from the commons to the valleys and out to the Severn Vale. While I truly love the landscape and countryside, it is the people who make up the community who make Stroud so wonderful. It is known to be quite tolerant and welcoming – and quirky – and that is what I like most.
What would you improve about Stroud?
How long do you have? I remember Stroud town centre in the 1960s when it was full of all kinds of different shops. Of course I would like to see a lively and thriving town centre once again. To do that we need to do a host of things – or campaign for them to be done – many of which are mentioned in Stroud Town Council’s Neighbourhood Development Plan. We need a better and regular bus service, proper bike parking and charging for electric bikes to encourage our growing group of cyclists. Free parking – as in other towns in the district – would improve Stroud no end (ask the traders). We need to be truly accessible and that means enabling people who use wheelchairs to go from one platform to the other without a 15-minute circuitous – and not most attractive – route around Stroud. I would love to see a mural trail around Stroud showing its history. Bristol and Gloucester have both done this effectively. Wouldn’t be wonderful to have a paint festival and engage the younger members of our community to feel valued.
When I sit out in The Shambles market on a Friday, as Mayor on the bench, I reckon about 50 percent of people who stop and talk to me are visitors to the town and they love it. The college and museum here is outside the town centre. I would love to see Stroud have a community hub where we can celebrate our heritage, strengthen community links and demonstrate our ecological
credentials. It would be great to have something like Sparks in Bristol which is a department store with a difference, co-created by Global Goals Centre and Artspace Lifespace. From fashion and food to nature and energy, each department is designed to support people in Bristol to take easy (and often money-saving!) actions on climate, equality and wellbeing. On the ground floor there is a huge range of shops, installations, events and more while upstairs is a hub for local artists, offering affordable studios, rehearsal and performance space.
What is your ideal weekend?
A meal at Stroud Brewery and a gig at The Subscription Rooms. I could even walk along the canal to get to the Subs. I was fortunate to recently see P.P. Arnold, courtesy of the Subs. It was a great gig. We are lucky to have Stroud Brewery which is a B Corp (B Corp Certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials). When Stroud Town Council saved the Subs from closure, it was a bit of a leap into unknown territory. Thanks to the amazing work of the trustees and team at the Subs, it has become a cherished and much used community venue.
What is on your bucket list?
Some years ago I went to Scotland by train with Pathfinder Tours, a company based in Woodchester. It was so enjoyable I would like to go again, perhaps taking the Caledonian sleeper train. Trains are a really wonderful way of seeing the countryside and I have seen so many different views and aspects of the UK travelling this way. If money was no object there is also a round Britain cruise (though my sea legs aren’t great). My Viking genes mean I am not good with the heat so there are no trips to Greece or south of France – or anywhere above 25C. I would like to see the Stones of Stenness which are part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Closer to home a reading and writing retreat at Hawkwood would be most enjoyable.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Just keep going, it will work out in the end.
What book and song would you take with you if stranded on an uninhabited island?
That depends on how long I am going to be there. I love learning new information which is why I enjoy being a councillor. So my book would have to be Encyclopaedia Britannica – the full set please. My song would be Joe Cocker singing ‘I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends. I saw him play this live when I lived in Germany and it was electrifying. At least there would be no one on the island to hear me sing . . . . . .