Labour councillor hits back after being spotted knitting during Monmouthshire council meeting

A Labour council cabinet member has responded to accusations that she was making "a mockery of local democracy” after she was seen knitting during an important committee meeting.

County Councillor Rachel Catherine Garrick was attending a council meeting virtually during which she would defend and discuss budget proposals for Monmouthshire.

She appeared to be distracted during the discussions when her knitting needles could be seen at the bottom of her screen.

Some politicians called Cllr Garrick's behaviour "flippant" and "shocking", as well as criticising hybrid meetings for council business.

Cllr Garrick however hit back saying that knitting helps her manage her chronic pain and stay focused - and described the comments "disappointing."

She said, "Understanding that disabilities and tools to cope with it are a necessary part of ensuring we have a council which represents our communities through lived experience."

Welsh Conservative Shadow Local Government Minister Sam Rowlands MS said, “Residents expect their councillors – specially the ones running the local authority – to be paying attention in meetings where the very fabric of public service delivery in the area is under question."

Cllr Garrick responded by saying it is "disappointing" to see the "lack of understanding of diversity", and thinks that it is "incredibly important that invisible disabilities and diversity are understood and embraced in modern democracy."

She also noted that she had previously presented a council budget from the Grange Hospital where she had been accompanying her mother who had been unwell.

"Knitting is a mechanism which helps me to focus – it allows me to be present in the moment without my brain concentrating on the chronic pain I experience due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and osteoarthritis in my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine as well as my sacroiliac joint," Cllr Garrick said.

Her response received support with one Twitter user saying she uses the same mechanism but with cross stitch.

Another said, "I’m the same. I need something to tether me to the room in long meetings with a lot of listening."

Cllr Garrick also called the row "opportunistic silliness" from the Conservatives to "undermine" the work that went into budget proposals.

"In terms of our budget, we are proposing a balanced budget which carefully considers the needs of our residents and the impact that the rising costs of service have on our community. We’re taking serious decisions on the impact of service reductions on our residents."

Addressing her personal experience, she said: "I was a wheelchair user in the past and it took two years of physiotherapy and hard work to be able to walk unaided. I have experienced how difficult it is to become elected in a system which is very much skewed towards able-bodied candidates."

She continued, "I genuinely hope that in future, councillors will feel comfortable in approaching me with questions about my disability rather than drawing conclusions based on their own lived experience."

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