Meet Joshua, the youngest ever councillor in Kirklees - aged 19
One of the new faces – and certainly the youngest – on Kirklees Council is Joshua Sheard, who has been elected to represent Birstall and Birkenshaw.
At 19 he is the youngest councillor in the history of the authority.
That record was previously held by Will Simpson, who was aged 22 years and one month when he was elected for Labour in Denby Dale in 2018.
Joshua, who is a process operator at Fox’s Biscuits in Batley, comes from a large family that has traditionally voted Labour.
He describes his great grandmother, Lilian Connolly – a lifelong Conservative – as his mentor and ascribes his Tory values to her.
Nonetheless his family is said to be “over the moon” that the teenager, who set up and chairs Batley and Spen Young Conservatives, will be taking a seat in the council chamber at Huddersfield Town Hall.
“It felt unreal,” he said, on hearing his name announced as a winning candidate.
“I’m Yorkshire born and bred, and I’m proud of Birstall, where I come from. It’s an honour and privilege to be elected. I was expecting a lesser vote than I achieved, which was 2,179 votes. I’m shocked at the amount I got.
“Being such a young age I thought some people would consider that I don’t have much life experience: ‘Why should we elect him?’
“I was fairly confident, but not to get the result that I got.”
The last few years since leaving Batley Grammar School have been revelatory for Joshua.
He says the Brexit vote in 2016 was the catalyst in propelling him towards politics.
“Brexit sparked my interest in politics. I couldn’t vote in 2016 but having researched the issues and read widely on the subject I know now that I would have voted leave.
“I read all the party ideologies and realised that I aligned with the Conservatives.
“That’s where it all started for me.”
He also praised his colleagues at Fox’s Biscuits who set aside traditional divisions to not only offer support but to accompany him on the slog to deliver leaflets during an election campaign constrained by Covid restrictions.
“They have been really supportive, and many of them are Labour voters. Some even offered to come out and campaign with me. That was fantastic.
“I would class them as my extended family. I can’t thank them enough.”
The next few months will be a busy time for Joshua and his colleagues. The election of Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire Mayor means there is a by-election looming in the Batley and Spen constituency.
And with a victory in Hartlepool the Conservatives are looking to replicate that win in West Yorkshire.
Joshua said: “The biggest thing for me would be to get a Conservative MP in Batley and Spen, to try and encourage more younger people to join and engage with the party or just to engage with politics on the whole.
“Two years ago I didn’t know what to do with my life. Getting involved in politics had brought me out of my shell.
“My message is, if you have a dream then go and get it. Don’t let people say you can’t have it because you can if you work hard for it.”
Present at the count at Cathedral House in Huddersfield when Joshua’s win was announced was Mark Thompson, elected in Birstall and Birkenshaw in 2016.
He praised his new colleague on the town hall benches.
“Josh may be only 19 but he is astute and politically aware.
“Coming onto to council is unknown territory for any of us. We all need tuition. Colleagues have been my schoolmasters for three years.
“Josh is willing and able to understand that. He also is open-minded and he has youth on his side.”