Mark Cooper is the current Mayor of Marlborough, following in a family tradition. He lives in Manton, and works at St John’s Academy.
Being Mayor runs in the family?
Yes, that’s right, a proud tradition! My great uncle Henry was Mayor twice in the 30s and 40s. My dad (Maurice) was Mayor twice and so was my uncle, Stewart Dobson. All served on Marlborough Town Council for many years between them.
The Coopers and the Dobsons are old Marlborough families going back generations, many people will remember Cooper’s butchers, and Dobson’s garage.
I grew up with local politics and no doubt that influenced my decision to study History and Politics at University. I guess it was inevitable that I would end up serving as a Town Councillor, and now I’m proud to be Mayor.
How long have you been on the Council?
I joined in 2017, and will stand again next year when the next election is due. Last time there weren’t enough candidates for there to be an election, but I am hoping in 2021 there will be. I think that over the past few years people have become more engaged in politics at all levels, so I’d like to thnk more people will stand.
What do you enjoy about being on the Council?
The opportunity to make a difference. I also enjoy listening to the people of the town and hearing their thoughts and opinions, which can all influence policy. I have no problem with people calling me up to make their voice heard – Marlborough people are passionate about the town and I share that passion.
How has the Coronavirus affected how you work at the Council?
We have all become remarkably familiar with Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as we have held all our meetings remotely. This has presented some interesting challenges, but on the whole has worked really well. The biggest Zoom meeting we have held involved 43 people – that was fun to chair! It was OK once I worked out how to swipe across to keep an eye out for people that wanted to speak, as they wouldn’t fit all on one screen!
The traditional Mayor-making ceremony couldn’t be held, so although I am the 710th Mayor of Marlborough I am the first “Virtual Mayor”.
Like everyone, during the pandemic public safety has been the primary concern, and now, as lockdown has eased, it’s important to recognise that the virus hasn’t gone away, we need to learn to live with it. Marlborough is open for business, and trade is picking up as people realise that it is possible to shop safely.
What do you think are the main challenges for the town going forward?
I think it is vital to support the High St as much as possible going forward. Marlborough has some fantastic independent businesses, and we are keen to promote them. Safety is paramount of course – and it’s important to show people that shops and restaurants etc are extremely safety conscious, but going into town can still be an enjoyable experience.
The other issue is affordable housing, I am keen we do as much as we can to encourage more affordable homes. This is not always easy, but it is a priority. I would like to think that people that grow up here are able to live here.
How did Lockdown affect you on a personal level?
I found it stressful, I missed being able to get out and about doing normal things. Normal is very underrated in my opinion.
It was difficult, as my father died at the end of June. He had Motor Neurone Disease, and prior to that I was helping care for him. Having been a very active person, it was hard for him not to be able to do things, he dealt with it with a lot of dignity and grace. Lockdown was fortuitous in a way as it meant I was able to spend a lot of time with him in his final weeks. It was tough at the end as we couldn’t go to hospital with him because of the virus.
Despite not being able to hold a large funeral for him, he had a good send off. People in Manton and Marlborough lined the funeral route to pay their respects, and at The Town Hall members of the Council and the Town Crier said a few words. It was incredibly heart-warming to see that my dad was held in such high regard, and our whole family is extremely grateful to everyone who showed us such wonderful support.
You work at St John’s, how long have you been there?
Since last year, prior to that I worked at a school in Devizes. I always imagined I would work at St John’s one day, as a former pupil it is like coming full circle. When I was a student it was still on the split sites, so there’s not much déjà vu being a teacher there, although there are 3 or 4 teachers who taught me that are still at the school.
I work as a Cover Supervisor, which means I fill in when a teacher can’t make their lesson. I work with the children in Key Stages 3 and 4 (up to 16). It’s varied, one minute I can be teaching History, the next Physics. The kids certainly keep me on my toes!
It’s a really interesting job, I love the way a school is a community within a community, and I feel privileged to work at one of the best state schools in the country.
I always find it amusing when pupils are surprised that I have a life outside of school, they always seem amazed if they bump in to me in the Supermarket or on the street, as if teachers only exist in a school setting.
How did lockdown affect your school work?
The school were very understanding about my needing to care for my dad, so I worked from home throughout. I went back in very briefly at the end of term.
I am looking forward to getting back to work, the school has put a great deal of effort into ensuring a safe environment for both students and staff going forward. It will be brilliant to see colleagues and students in person again I have missed that.
I have felt sorry for students in their GCSE and A Level years, they have missed out on a lot, from being able to do their exams, to missing the prom, and having a last day at school. They have been amazingly resilient.
What else are you looking forward to as life gets back to a new normal?
I will be glad to see other Councillors face to face, which we hope to be able to do from September. I think we have a great bunch, and I enjoy working with them.
It has been good to get out and about more, and I’m looking forward to that continuing, and getting back into a routine.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like sport, and have been involved with Marlborough Cricket Club for many years. I’ve also been an ardent Swindon Town fan since I was a boy. That’s been a bit of a roller coaster; from the heights of the Premier League to the lows of League Two! The play off final at Wembley was one of the best days of my life – and the most tense!
I love reading – I tend to go for non-fiction, and like to read a lot of History. I particularly enjoy American History, and the Kennedy era. I’ll also read Sport biographies. I’ve dipped my toe into fiction recently with a John Grisham thriller, which I have enjoyed.
I enjoy watching sport on TV too, particularly Cricket and American Football. (My team is the Cleveland Browns, who I chose for no other reason than brown is my favourite colour! You’ve got to have a team to support though, as it makes it more interesting). 80s TV is also something I enjoy – stuff like Minder and Only Fools and Horses is great.
We have quite a large garden – my dad used to love it. I’m not the best gardener, but I find mowing the lawn therapeutic – it’s good thinking time when mowing back and forth!