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Councillor Lisa Marie-Hughes: Renfrew is a slice of the high life

Lisa-Marie Hughes (front) with fellow SNP councillor Michelle Campbell in Renfrew's Robertson Park

Councillor Lisa Marie-Hughes: Renfrew is a slice of the high life

Describe the area you represent in one sentence.
Renfrew is a historic town and an engineering giant that feels like a village. 

How long have you lived there? 
I’ve lived in Renfrew for seven years and Renfrewshire for 16 years. I grew up in a village in Ayrshire, but I love living in Renfrew.

Tell us something we wouldn’t know about your local area. 
Can I tell you three things? Because I kept thinking of loads. Renfrew Airport was the home of the Scottish Flying Club, whose member Winnie Drinkwater was the youngest pilot in Scotland and the first woman in the world to have a commercial pilot’s licence. She was 17 when she got her pilot’s licence and 19 when she got her commercial licence. She was a total pioneer.

Medical ultrasound was invented here. Babcock & Wilcox, which has a base here, was using it on its machinery and a professor from the University of Glasgow visited. Together they developed it for medical use.

And there’s a legend, which I choose to believe, that Walt Disney flew into Renfrew Airport, which was the main airport for Scotland at the time, and was driven through the town, past our town hall, and so that’s what the Disney Castle is based on. A taxi driver told me the story, and I believe taxi drivers know the lay of the land.

Who is the most famous person from your area?
King Robert II was born here, and I don’t think it gets more famous than that. Renfrew is the cradle of the Stewarts.

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?
We are quite densely populated and we’ve had a lot of housebuilding because people still want to come and live here, and that’s a really good thing, but the challenge is making sure there’s infrastructure and that there are jobs to support people living here. Being situated on the Clyde, there’s a climate challenge if you look at map predictions, and we know already we have issues with flooding. That’s something we are really keen to be on top of because a large part of the town is sitting on a river floodplain. 

Why did you stand for election?
The long story is that I think government at all levels should reflect its people and it’s helpful if people with lived and professional experience are in decision-making roles. I grew up in a single-parent family on benefits; I was a carer to my mother; I know what the system is. I also have an education degree and spent most of my adult life before council working in social care, so I think I bring really valuable on-the-ground and professional experience to decision-making. And the short answer is that I was having a rant at a branch meeting about ‘why don’t we have more young women in politics?’ and two people said to me, ‘well, when are you going to do something about that?’. So here I am. 

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent? 
For any politician, your job is to be present, to understand the challenges and the opportunities in an area and to just really drive forward change and progress. I think the link between local and national government – both Scottish and UK governments – is really important, as is harnessing the unique perspective that councillors have. We really know our areas, we know our stuff. 

What’s the best thing about living where you do? 
Renfrew is a decent-sized town, but it feels like a village and that’s the thing I love most about it. We have a green corridor, lovely woods, nice parks, civic buildings and sports centres, there’s good employment here and our town centre is quite bustling. We have lots of independent businesses doing things that are a wee bit different and it’s a really nice place to live.

Renfrew Town Hall... or is that the Disney castle? | Alamy

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?
Sma’ shot, which is the name for the invisible thread that runs through weaving. People think weaving is about Paisley but the whole of Renfrewshire was weaving, all the villages had mills. It’s part of everybody’s history.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be? 
If I was in Scotland, I’d choose to stay here. If I was outwith Scotland it would be somewhere like New York, which is my favourite city.

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