I first met Graham during the 2010 General Election, when he would regularly bring car-loads of volunteers from Tunbridge Wells to support Tracey Crouch's campaign in Chatham & Aylesford.
Graham and I got on well, and following the GE he called the TW Conservative Office to see what he could do to help. He subsequently took over the running of our Patrons' Club and also agreed to get a new branch off the ground in Ashurst, the small village where he lives.
Armed with a list of Conservative pledges and a pack of membership forms, Graham did what many used to do regularly, before computers replaced the local membership secretaries; he knocked on doors, introduced himself, and asked people to join the Party. Within a month he had signed-up nearly 20 members and had sufficient volunteers to form a branch committee.
The Ashurst branch is an ideal model of how it should now be done. Gone are the monthly branch meetings with the formal set agenda. Instead, they meet as and when they need to meet to discuss whatever business needs to be transacted at that time. And quite right, too!
Ashurst is now up and running and in its second year. They have a full slate of Officers (democratically appointed by Graham over a bottle of decent Claret at the AGM held at his home). Following the AGM they have a guest speaker - this year it was me, and I spoke about the life and tribulations of a political agent. This was followed by a good natured but very well balanced discussion though the local and national political landscape, covering everything from equal marriage, Eastleigh, UKIP, the economy, housebuilding and the future of the cinema site! At the end of the AGM they set a date for the next meeting "later in the year - about October" so they can begin planning the annual Call My Bluff and Cottage Pie Extravaganza in the village hall. You might well laugh, this year's Call My Bluff and Cottage Pie Extravaganza was oversubscribed (40 people were turned away) and it raised £1400 for association funds.
The most important thing, however, isn't the political discussion, the meeting of friends or the £1,400 raised, it's the bridge between the Conservative Party and the wider community. Most of those who attended the Call My Bluff ewhere local residents who were not party members, but we brought them into our fold, listened to what they had to say and gave them a chance to meet us and share their opinions. This is exactly how it should be, and why our branches are so important.
And none of this would have happened in Ashurst, if it wasn't for the work of one man, Graham Riddick. So thank you, Graham (and Sarah) for your great work!