Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
My name is Matthew Eyre, pronounced ‘Air’ for anyone unsure (not Eerie as a very loud and enthusiastic American friend once did). I’m 23 years old, I work for the Member of Parliament for Derby North and I was just elected to Derby City Council as the new Conservative Councillor for my home ward of Oakwood.
I’m not great at football, even worse at Call of Duty and my cooking can occasionally be as bad as my dad jokes but I’m a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory and Brooklyn-99. I have two hamsters called Zaphod and Peach, I love a good Kentucky Bourbon and I have never once turned down a Chinese Takeaway.
Tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in Rotherham, a former mining town in South Yorkshire. My dad is a Functional Safety Adviser, my mum a secretary, and my younger sister works in retail.
I’m half Sicilian but that doesn’t stop me from getting sunburnt ridiculously easily and I’ve inherited a combination of my parent’s hair that has led to some very interesting hairstyles I would much rather forget.
My parents have nearly always voted, but I certainly didn’t grow up in a ‘political’ household.
I went to University in Derby where I graduated ‘Top of my Class’ in 2019 with a First-Class Honours Law Degree and several awards. I was already active in politics and knew it was the career I really wanted to pursue.
What inspired you to become involved with politics?
It’s a bit of a combination of ‘what’ and ‘who’ and it all happened really quickly. I went from being bored out of my mind in a politics lesson in January 2014 to delivering political leaflets less than 4 months later.
Really it was my grandad. We’d always been incredibly close but he felt he’d missed his ‘chance’ to really get involved in politics. However, in 2014, after the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham was revealed, he realised he had to get involved again to try and improve the situation.
I got involved primarily to help him, it was something we did together just the two of us. As he became ill, I kept it up on our behalf and then when he passed away, I never even thought about giving it up.
Through being involved, I’d met so many amazing people who were making a difference in their community. They brought me into the fold and showed me how I could get more involved and everything took off from there.
What does a typical week as a councillor look like?
No day is ever the same. When each day starts you never really know how it is going to end and you never know what could influence your schedule.
You have a lot of standard ‘week in, week out’ things. I sit on five committees so one week I’m scrutinising cabinet papers, the next I’m shaping the Children and Young People’s Strategy and the next examining personnel. As well as this I have constituent’s casework which could be anything from housing to trees to antisocial behaviour and it’s my job to do everything I can to fix the issue my resident is having.
I also chair our Neighbourhood Board Committee, where it’s my responsibility to ensure our funding is properly spent on things that are important to my residents, not wasted on vanity projects or something that won’t work.
Then there are ward events like litter picks, flower planting, walkabouts with Police and so many other crucial elements that ensure I’m present in my ward, engaging with people and hearing their concerns.
However, this does mean you get roped into all sorts of things, and in a few weeks I’ll be in stocks, dressed as a bandit, while children in superhero costumes throw sponges of water at me – still not sure how I was convinced to agree to that…
What change do you hope to make?
First, I want to deliver on my election pledges; a new defibrillator for the District Centre, a refurbished Park pathway so that families don’t need a boat to cross puddles on their way to the play area, and proper measures to prevent another disruptive caravan encampment.
I also want to show people what a young and enthusiastic councillor can do, how they can disrupt the ‘status quo’ and how, through organising community events, being active in the ward and asking the tough questions, young people can make a tangible difference and change the way we do things.
I will also ensure I stand up for everyone in my ward. There are so many people out there without a voice, or who do not know how to or even that they can use their voice for good.
I will be that voice.
What was the process of campaigning like?
This was easily the most unusual campaign in my 7 years in politics.
Usually, a campaign starts 11 months before the election and ramps up first in January then again in March, but due to the lockdown, we couldn’t deliver any paper literature until 8th March, meaning I had over 20,000 pieces of literature to deliver in less than 60 days.
We achieved this, but I ruined a very good pair of shoes in the process.
The restrictions also meant an emphasis on online campaigning, mainly through our ‘Oakwood Councillors’ Facebook Page but also boosted material as well – reaching my residents as often as possible was absolutely crucial.
The biggest change, however, and a very risky one given I was the challenger, not the incumbent, was my decision to do no canvassing (knocking on doors). I didn’t feel residents would appreciate it as at the time I hadn’t been vaccinated (I’ve now had my first dose) and speaking through a mask in warm spring weather was much slower than delivering literature and letters.
I didn’t know how this would affect the results, but as I’m answering these questions, I know it was the right decision.
What’s been the most significant moment on your journey so far?
The moment I stood on the stage, my result was announced, and I officially became an elected councillor.
I don’t say that in a sort of ‘I am victorious’ way, but elections are unusual, you analyse every aspect of everything you see, every person who likes your post, every “good luck,” every ‘I usually vote … but I’m voting for you.’
That can really mess with your head, and then on election day, you realise you are powerless, as other people decide the outcome.
But what made that the most significant moment was that that was the moment I gained the ability to do more, when I gained a seat at the table, a voice in the meetings, the ability to ask for action with the status to make it happen.
That was the moment everything changed.
How can young people make a difference to their local community and politics?
The best way to make a difference is to get involved; there’s no substitute for getting yourself out there, doing things and making yourself known.
Speak to people already doing what you want to do, whether you agree with them or not, read up on the issues that matter to you, formulate your stances, go out there and do your thing.
If you want to go into journalism, write a piece and fight hard to get it published; if you want to get into politics, ask a question at a council meeting or write to your MP; very few things will come to you, you need to reach out and get them.
The one thing I found throughout my campaign, which surprised me was that no one said “you’re too young,” “you’re just a kid” or “you’re not old enough,” instead they said “you’re a breath of fresh air,” “we need more young people like you” and “you’re an inspiration.”
I don’t say those things to ‘show off,’ but I can promise you that if I can do it, so can everyone else, because I didn’t do something brand new, I did what others weren’t doing, I did what everyone reading this has the ability to do.
If you could go back and give advice to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?
Two main pieces of advice:
Be true to yourself – It’s not always easy, and you will feel pressure to change and become someone else, but nothing feels better than knowing you stuck to your guns, especially when things got difficult.
Don’t worry if you don’t have everything planned out – You can never plan for everything and you shouldn’t try to; things will happen that are out of your control, what matters is how you deal with them.