“I’VE BEEN through far too much, I think, at times. A friend was commented my life is like a Shakesperean tragedy – it’s always just another train wreck,” says Megan Birchall as they start on their journey as a parish councillor.
But those experiences, as well as their position as the first trans non-binary representative in the whole of Greater Manchester, can help bring new vision to the role.
Megan – once a teenage victim of a sexual assault – created history as being returned unopposed to Saddleworth Parish Council in the Delph ward for the May 4 vote.
Now the hard work has started for the 21-year-old, who is determined to use all life experiences – good and bad – to form an approach.
Megan said: “I don’t want to just be known as ‘the trans councillor.’ There’s a lot more to me than that.
“But my life experiences could help me as a parish councillor. I can’t imagine any of the councillors have ever been homeless, let alone twice before the age of 18.
“Once when I was eight or nine-years-old, another when I was 16 turning 17.
“My experiences haven’t made it easy, I’ll be honest.
“I’m technically drawing now as the first trans councillor in Greater Manchester, even though I was returned unopposed, I wasn’t officially elected until May 4, so now it’s me and Chris Northwood in Manchester.
“I’m still the first non-binary councillor in Greater Manchester and joint first trans councillor.
“People don’t know our backgrounds. I’m a victim, although I don’t see myself through that lens but all of that has shaped me.
“There’s a tiny contingent of obsessives. I went to a restaurant in Saddleworth, where the staff were lovely, and one unpleasant woman in the bathroom looked at me and mumbled ‘tranny’ under her breath.
“And a lot of it comes online. There are a few places I avoid – at one point, I had a 4,000-strong block list on Twitter. I once got called a gender extremist, I’ve no idea what that means!
“People have also said, ‘You can see the mental illness in it.’ An independent candidate once described me as a ‘self-declared transvestite.’ I’d never describe myself as a transvestite but since then I’ve probably used it far too much as I found it hilarious.
“You’ve got to have a thick skin, but in politics you need one anyway. For the most part, you can laugh at it.”
Megan, 21, grew up in Delph, saying ‘that’s where my heart lives,’ and remembers grandparents Vera and Terry Dickinson’ political drive rubbing off.
Now they are a parish councillor, they are on five different committees – planning, strategic planning, communications, environment and assets management.
“I even have a spreadsheet,” they quipped.
More seriously, though, Megan hopes to help bring in a new vision for the authority – and give it a bigger voice.
They added: “It feels like things are changing in Saddleworth.
“Fundamentally, it’s somewhere that’s had an aging population for a very long time. Now you’re getting a lot of young self-made professionals, you see them when you knock on the doorstep.
“It’ll shift hugely over the next 10-20 years and the average age of councillors has dropped a lot after the elections, that can absolutely bring something different.
“Former Parish Council chiar and former Mayor of Oldham, John Hudson OBE, told me, ‘We do need more young people.’
“We bring a very different perspective and that can inform a lot of decisions.
“I bring a different perspective on planning. Not only do you want to live here yourself, you want your kids to grow up where you’ve lived. If you’ve grown up in Saddleworth, you want to stay living in Saddleworth.
“That’s not a possibility for a great amount of people and I didn’t stand for parish to just say, ‘Let’s just keep with the flow.’
“I don’t want to be making contentious decisions for the sake of it but I’m going to do what I think is right.
“I want to keep on doing what was happening with the environment committee, with things like Saddleworth Community Hydro – that’s really important, on a practical note and we need clean energy.
“Saddleworth has the potential to lead on that in Oldham and I want to see the infrastructure improve. We’ve a massive deficit in health services as it stands.
“I’d also love to see a rise of affordable housing, where appropriate. Sustainable housing too, there’s no use just building a load of low quality new builds.
“Also, the assets Saddleworth Parish Council does control maintaining the best value for money but also providing the most for the communities they serve.
“I also think it needs to have a stronger voice within the borough. We don’t have the weight I feel we should have. We’re just viewed as any other consultee.
“To an extent, it’s felt like an old boys’ club. We are elected to represent the people of Saddleworth and I don’t want to be a one-term councillor.”