Q&A: Rachel Eden, councillor and Mayor of Reading

Rachel Eden moved to Reading in 2007 and in 2010 was elected as a Labour councillor for Whitley, a position she has held ever since. She is an award-winning founder of local accountancy firm Holy Brook Associates which works with small businesses, charities and social enterprises, and is also Chair of community group West Reading Together and a (voluntary) Director of Reading Community Energy Society. She stood as the Labour and Cooperative Parties’ candidate in Reading West in the 2019 general election, and in November 2021 was confirmed as Mayor Of Reading. She lives in West Reading.

What have you missed most in lockdown?
Getting out and about meeting people – whether at festivals and events, or just random catch ups. I have friends and colleagues from all sorts of life experiences and backgrounds and from all around the world and I really miss them. Reading is a very special place with a special spirit.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
Definitely our sense of community. Reading is a wonderful, diverse place with an incredibly strong sense of community. I truly love that we celebrate together and right now we are mourning together, but whatever the circumstances we love our town and we support each other. In Reading we haven’t always talked about special sense of friendships across our communities – because we are so used to it – but we do now need to really emphasise and value it, and our spirit of solidarity.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
‘Pancake Night’: every Friday for several years growing up my mum would make pancakes, after we went swimming or to the library. We saw it as a massive treat.  

It always feels to me like politicians in other countries are so much better at speaking human than their British counterparts. Do you agree, and if so what do you think is behind that?
I do feel our political culture is quite unforgiving – I think we have a tendency to want to catch people out. Having said that, I also kind of think the politicians we hear about from other countries are the interesting or personable ones – I bet not every New Zealand politician is a Jacinda Ardern. Ultimately, if we want politicians who show a bit more of a human side we need to vote for them.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I’d want Amy Poehler, I love Parks and Recreation… although that might be a bit aspirational.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
For a political one I’d invite the Obamas, Mo Mowlam, Gordon Brown, Jess Phillips and a bunch of my Reading Labour Councillor colleagues. I’d cook them all a Sunday roast and hope that I’d get a word in edgeways… I love entertaining, although I always end up inviting too many people for a sit-down dinner.

Where will you go for your first meal out after lockdown?
I think it’s quite likely to be Fidget & Bob: I have missed hanging out there, although I have managed to visit their ‘deli’. Shuet and Breege are just lovely people and I always know I’ll have a great meal and a special time.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I have a feeling the Conservative Councillors got a bit fed up of me saying ‘I’m disappointed’ in response to them in council meetings. I also have to edit most things I write to reduce the uses of the word ‘lovely’

What more do you think the council can do to support our independent businesses in this climate?
This is a massive topic. It’s my day job to work with indies in Reading and I never cease to be amazed at the range of businesses our town is home to. To take just one example of what the council could do more of: for a lot of start-ups, office space and meeting room costs in our town can be prohibitive. I think that it is something the council should look at.  

The first step though, to really understand what the council should do is to really spend some time listening to our independent businesses. It’s going to be vital for Reading post-Covid and the Brexit transition to make sure our home-grown independents survive and – hopefully – thrive.  

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
The meal I’ve enjoyed the most was my partner’s birthday last year – I arranged a surprise for him at Thames Lido with a group of friends and family. The food was really good, of course, but it was the feeling of togetherness which was so special.

I imagine running for Parliament must be a very surreal thing to do. What was the strangest experience you had on the campaign trail?
The most obviously surreal moment was getting a call while visiting the Gurdwara asking me if I wanted Hugh Grant to come and campaign for me.  It led to a very surreal Monday afternoon: and of course the social media on that went viral.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
My kids have a habit of re-watching films a lot, but as a children’s film I think Paddington is worth multiple watches. It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve is pretty hard to beat: I defy anyone to watch the journey of George Bailey from suicidal and on the verge of bankruptcy to receiving the love and acceptance of everyone around him without being moved.  

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
Coop Irresistible Chilli Crisps, but as long as it’s not salt and vinegar, I’m happy.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
I have so many, but telling my university boyfriend that he was disgusting for drinking pig milk when he offered me UHT in my tea has to stand out as a cringeworthy food-related embarrassment. In my defence, my mum had told me that UHT milk came from pigs when I was small and I’d never realised it was a joke.

What prompted you to get into politics?
I joined the Labour Party because I wanted to be part of making change happen – not just campaigning for change – and one thing led to another.

Who is the best leader the Labour Party has ever had, and who’s the best leader they never had?
I’m never sure about what criteria to use for these questions, but I believe Harold Wilson could be said to be our best or most successful leader. Looking at track record and experience, Barbara Castle would have made a great leader and Prime Minister, but Jo Cox was being talked about as a future leader. It’s one of the biggest tragedies of the last few years that her assassination means we’ll never know if she would have been.

Where is your happy place?
My garden – I can spend all day with my kids, my partner or on my own pottering around.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Buttered toast with Nutella.  

Tell us something people might not know about you.
My great-grandfather was a gardener at Beale Park back when it was the Childe Beale Estate. My dad spent a lot of his childhood staying with them in a cottage on the estate.

Describe yourself in three words.
Honest, messy, kind.


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