AFTER 23 years as a borough councillor, and nearly 20 as a county councillor, Basingstoke’s ‘Old Ma Popley’ is stepping down from her roles at the upcoming elections.

The town’s first female, Labour mayor, Cllr Jane Frankum was first elected in 1998, beating Michael Berwick-Gooding (Lib Dem) to the Popley West seat by just 26 votes.

The following year, her son Paul also stood in the same ward and was elected.

“Popley was a very different place when we first became councillors,” recalled Jane.

“It had a really bad reputation, and we didn’t think it really deserved it.”

After speaking with some other local residents throughout the 1990s, Jane and her family reestablished the community magazine, Popley Matters.

They got a “small loan” from the council to launch the publication, which began as a quarterly A4 folded pamphlet before evolving into a monthly booklet which now reaches 5,400 in print and many more - from all across the world - online. It’s last edition will be next month.

“The more we delved into, the more we felt, how can we change things?”, explained Jane.

“I went to the public part of council meetings for two-and-a-half years before I ever thought about becoming a councillor. When I take anything on, it’s both hands on the reins with me.

“Our vision was you could be born in Popley, and live in Popley, and never have to leave.

“We sat down as a family and thought how are we going to work this out for Paul to be able to give up work. Because Popley needed full-time care!”

When asked about the highlights of her time as a ward council, Jane, now 75, said: “It’s difficult, because in 20 years so much has happened, so much has changed.”

The former Longfellow Parade shops were a key turning point for the pair. They had started experiencing “the broken window effect”, but Jane and Paul reimagined the area, and it became “the focus of the regeneration” that would follow.

The building of a new school for Popley, Everest Academy, was another major achievement, and saw Jane join the county council to make it happen.

She said: “It really was falling to pieces. I decided I would go to county, because I wanted that school to be at least refurbished.

“Bearing in mind, at that stage, Hampshire County Council had not built a secondary school in 30 years, so it was a heck of a fight!”

She added: “We didn’t have a North of Basingstoke plan, it was like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Jane describes Popley Community Park as a “family dream” and “the jewel in my crown”.

“When we first envisaged the park, we, like many, couldn’t afford holidays, so we wanted somewhere people could go and have a really good time and not have to pay,” she said.

The park was also intended to help make Popley a more “cohesive” place. The success of their regeneration projects had brought a lot of housing to the area, and Jane was concerned about the “us and them” rhetoric between East and West Popley.

“We didn’t have a fallen Berlin Wall, but we had a park! And, at that time, it was very divided.”

Other important achievements for Jane were securing a special educational needs school and care home facilities.

She recalled speaking with a couple who had been separated after 55 years of marriage, because the gentleman had been forced to move into a care home in Alton.

“It really broke my heart, one of the times that I really got upset,” said Jane.

“55 years of marriage, never having a day apart, and then this in your last days. We said, it’s got to be better than that, we have to do something.”

Jane has also played a big role in campaigning for a pharmacy and, more recently, a post office on Abbey Road.

“As well as those big things, there have been many little things, helping people,” she said.

Jane recalls one fight she had with a housing association, who wanted to force a family to move out of a house after their parents went into a care home.

“I got a phonecall. The lady was crying, but in fact she was crying with joy because it was their pearl wedding anniversary and they had got the news that they could stay.

“That’s the things that we do in the background.”

Through everything, Jane says the goal has remained the same: “We worked hard to get the new housing, to try and get it right, to get the parks. From cradle to the grave, we want people to be able to live in Popley.”

In 2016, Jane was selected as the new Mayor of Basingstoke, having been deputy the year before. Then in 2017, Paul took over the role.

“I was the first ever female, Labour mayor since the position was created in 1641. It was also a record that mother and son would directly follow,” said Jane.

“It was the pinnacle of being a councillor. We wanted to do something different as mayor because we had two years together.”

Instead of selecting just three charities, as is usual for a mayor to do, Jane and Paul set up the Mayor’s ‘community chest’, which raised £45,000 for 55 small organisations.

Paul also gave the first ever Mayor’s Youth Award, which was a major achievement for them both.

Although there is much to celebrate from their time in the role, when asked what their main regrets have been, Jane and son Paul, who is also standing down, agreed that parking was a big thing for them.

“We have issues in Popley with parking, though we’ve had some improvement, but our hands were tied behind our backs in many ways,” said Jane.

Paul added: “When I was first elected I was in my twenties, all my friends were asking for a KFC and a nightclub. We petitioned for and got the KFC, but not the nightclub!”

They would also like to have seen a community centre facility for Popley, but hope there may be possibilities for this with the new SEN school.

And the work isn’t quite over yet, as Jane has a meeting this week about accessibility with council officers from both councils, addressing the risks posed by pavement drops for people in buggies and wheelchairs.

“Right to the last minute, we will be working for Popley,” she said.

“Popley has seen everything, and whenever we have had disaster, flooding, fires, the community has just been amazing, everyone has come together. I’m going to miss it desperately.”

“I have always said Popley is a family - my nickname is Old Ma Popley. And what you would do for your family, what you would fight for, we would for Popley.”

Jane says she decided to stand down after Paul was delisted by the Labour party: “We are a team, we work together.”

However, they will both be keeping busy.

Paul is a volunteer with Spotlight and the current vaccination hubs, as well as a Rotarian, and will now be seeking full-time employment.

Meanwhile, Jane says she will be spending her time working with the Basingstoke and Deane Disabilities Forum and Access for All.

“Life is going to be so different - our front room has been our office!” she said.

As a family, through everything they’ve been through, Jane says they have not missed a commitment or stopped serving the community.

The only engagement she ever missed was the Queen’s Garden Party, just two days before her late husband, Ken, passed away. She said that, on the day of his funeral she was doing some case work, adding with a laugh that that would have been exactly what he wanted.

“We love Popley and the people, but we have got to learn now when people come to us with things, that they need to contact someone else,” she said

“But I’ll still be here. I have always said Popley is a family , and you don’t turn your back on your family.”