Toby Elliot did things differently.
But that shouldn’t surprise anyone because he’s from Frome. They do things differently in Frome.
Frome is home to Independents for Frome. In 2015 they took control of the town council by winning every seat.
They did that by doing things differently.
Flat Pack Politics
Before we get to Toby I think it is only fair to give you a bit of background.
The Independents for Frome was born of a frustration with traditional political parties and their role in local government. A resident of Frome, Peter McFayden, came up with a simple idea, people should run their own communities so councils should give them the power to do it. This idea is expanded in his book Flatpack Democracy and then by the Independents for Frome.
So that’s where Toby comes from but what has he done?
Taking a new approach to civic leadership
Any mayor born of a new approach to politics is bound to do things differently. That is exactly how Toby approached the role. As he puts it “There are expectations, but I think we should question those expectations.”
Question them he did. Just by taking a quick look at Toby you realise that he isn’t going to be the kind of mayor you expect. He has a relaxed, easy going style that makes him accessible to the people of his town. More than that, his commitment to empower them rather than just represent them meant that the events he attended turned into conversations.
In part Toby’s success comes from having ambition, not necessarily for himself but for the role. He sees the potential it could have, as he says, “How much more can we do if we don’t fulfil those expectations?”
That’s the right attitude to have. That’s how we will create a tradition for today.
Taking a different approach to charity
Toby could have arranged a quiz, a curry night and maybe a ball, raised a bit of cash for a good cause and left it at that. That’s what people were expecting. So how much more did he achieve?
“I spent 12 months being mayor and what people remember me for is wearing high heels and walking around town!” That’s how Toby summed up his charity push.
He is referring to ‘walk a mile in her shoes’, the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence. It encourages men to work towards ending violence against women.
And yes, it involved Toby walking a mile in high heels, through the centre of Frome on a busy market day. Let’s face it that’s memorable.
There’s the rub, if a group of men walk through town in high heels the cause gets some promotion. If the mayor does it, you can guarantee it’ll be in the traditional media as well as getting all over social media.
As a stunt it was not so much about raising money for the cause but more about raining awareness for it. That is a different approach to charity. Toby realised that it is better to get people thinking about a problem like violence against women than it is to get them to part with their cash.
Brilliant job Toby. Even if you where only wearing kitten heels not stilettos.
Part of a team
Toby was not the only guy to walk a mile that day. Which means he could have taken part in it if he was just an ordinary citizen. But being mayor gave him a chance to lead rather than just be involved. Having a civic leader involved elevated the event in the media’s eyes and drastically increased its impact. Which proves the point that having an impact is often about taking your opportunities.
In a nutshell that is what Toby learnt while in office: take the chances you’re given and use them to make a difference.
A new approach for new civic leaders
Toby did some great things while in office. Some of them you can copy, some of them might not work for you. I asked him what advice he had for other civic leaders. He said “Do something you feel needs doing”
You know your community, you know the problems it has. Pick something that needs doing and try to make a different. I think Toby has reduced being a civic leader down to its core. He’s given us a clear way to excel.
Why not try walking a mile in Toby’s shoes?