In my early twenties, I found myself with nowhere to live during the recession after I lost the coffee shop that I ran with my then husband.
I had a 14-month-old son and was nine months’ pregnant when I queued in a council housing office, not knowing where we were going to sleep that night.
I am forever grateful that the safety net was in place for us and we were found a room in a shared house before being moved into more permanent accommodation.
That memory of anxiety and fear, followed by huge relief, has stayed with me and I believe it has enabled me to better support other people in times of crisis.
This is the main reason that I got into politics in the first place. I have seen all too often people not being aware of – or not being given – the advice and support available to them.
I became a councillor for Queen’s Park ward in Brighton and Hove in May 2015, along with my fellow candidates and good friends Daniel Chapman and Adrian Morris.
With the Labour Party becoming the minority administration, I was asked to lead on adult social care as I had a public and third sector background in this area, among other things.
I sat on the Health and Wellbeing Board as the deputy chair until May last year when the chair, Councillor Daniel Yates, stepped away from the board to become the leader of the council.
It was at this point that I took on the role of chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board and changed my lead role to cover public health and health and social care integration.
As you can imagine, this is a challenging area for the council as the government has continued to reduce funding year on year, even though the demand and complexity of need has increased.
However, with the Labour administration’s commitment to support the most vulnerable people in our communities, I was able to ensure that the overall health and social care budget increased every year from 2015, even when other local authorities were needing to slash their budgets and cut services.
With this in mind, the new Health and Wellbeing Board chair’s main focus should be on ensuring adequate health and social care funding and continued democratic oversight and accountability for any further health and social care integration.
As a ward councillor, I have been kept very busy with a wide range of meetings and casework. While this was exhausting at times, it brought great satisfaction when I was able to support residents to achieve the outcomes that they need and deserve.
My only sadness is that residents got to the point of needing my intervention – sometimes people just don’t know where else to turn in times of hardship and distress.
Outside politics, I will continue to support people through my work – I currently manage a local charity.
Being a councillor is extremely rewarding but it does come with many challenges. It is often all-consuming and while many residents are very understanding and supportive, there is also a lot of anger directed at politicians.
While I do understand the frustrations felt by many people in the current economic and political climate and the difficulties they experience just to make ends meet, it can’t be right that people trying to improve their communities face threats and abuse on a regular basis and sometimes at a level that makes them fear for their lives, as I have sadly experienced.
However, I will miss so much about being a councillor and would like to thank the Labour Party and most importantly the residents of Queen’s Park for putting their faith in me and giving me such an incredible opportunity.
Councillor Karen Barford is stepping down after serving as the chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board on Brighton and Hove City Council and as a Labour councillor for Queen’s Park ward.