Henley’s community treasure at Henley Town Hall and Herald Community Champion Heart of Gold Neighbour Award winner, Louise Hastings retired from her role as Information Centre Manager after 25 years yesterday.
Louise joined Henley Town Council as a Receptionist in 1997. Louise said, “I wanted a job without any responsibilities and that was close to home as my Mum was poorly. The job was perfect. I wasn’t sure at first that I would last six months as there were lots of residents moaning about the pedestrianisation of Market Place but it fell into place. Mrs Pickett my first Town Clerk was incredible, she supported you if you needed anything and nothing was too much trouble.”
She was promoted to Information Centre Manager in 2008 when the role encompassed the Tourist Information Centre.
Over the years, Louise has seen technology grow in her role. Louise explained, “We had fax machines when I first joined and we typed up letters that Mrs Pickett (Town Clerk) handwrote.” She has helped residents with everything from Council Tax, to housing problems, parking issues to toilet issues.
Louise loved to learn new things and to keep up-to-date with everything going on. She has also been the administrator for Full Council meetings and played an important part as administrator of the Townlands Steering Group (TSG). Louise recalled, “Councillors Chris Pye and David Smewing came into the Town Hall one day and starting smiling at me, I thought what do they want? They asked me if I could cover one meeting of the TSG. I said I’m not a minute taker but 15 years later I was still doing the job! It was fantastic to give something back to the NHS after Dr Ashby had supported my family over many years.” One of her best memories was delivering the petition to 10 Downing Street.
Why has she stayed so long? Louise replied, “I just loved my job. I love meeting and helping people. Going home everyday thinking I’ve made a difference to someone in a good way. I’ve also loved styling the weddings and seeing the children visit the town hall. I’ve had lots of adventures on the way, they may not have all gone to plan but we always got there in the end. It’s been an honour and a privilege to serve the community.”
Louise has worked with 8 Town Clerks, 25 Mayors and spoken with 4 Prime Ministers. Her fun for life has rubbed off on many she has worked with. She recalls, “Cliff Austin (late Town Sergeant) and I used to play pranks on each other. When he was 50 I had a chat with his Mum and got some photos of him and printed them off. I asked Mrs Pickett if I could put them around town. Back then no posters were allowed anywhere around town. Mrs Pickett said I know nothing about this. It took a few days for Cliff to find them all.”
Back when Boris Johnson was MP for Henley, Louise was quite shy. The girls in the office egged her on to get a photo of him. Louise recalled, “So one night, when he was late as always, I had the keys to let him in and out of nowhere I suddenly came out with no photo, no unlocking and got the photo autographed too.”
Louise is going to spend the next month catching up with family and friends she hasn’t seen for a while that are all spread around the country and then after that she’s going to do some volunteering at Bluebells Day Centre as well as pick up some of her hobbies that include her allotment, tapestry, sewing and crocheting. She’ll also continue her caring for elderly in the community.
The Council put on a special afternoon tea for Louise’s guests yesterday. Louise commented, “It was overwhelming and amazing. I didn’t really want a party but Leena persuaded me. I thought I should just leave quietly with just tea and cake in the office but it was so lovely to see so many people who I have worked with over the last 25 years. I was overwhelmed with the generosity too of peoples’ card and presents.”
Yesterday Henley Mayor, Councillor Michelle Thomas said, “This is a really important community job. Louise’s face is the first face you see when you come into this beautiful town hall for residents and visitors alike. A member of the public shared with me just a few weeks ago that they couldn’t believe that you (Louise) were leaving. They said at every single Town Council event, it is Louise, Louise that you see. Louise you are irreplaceable. She is known affectionately as the ‘Oracle’ by her colleagues in the office. She is the font of all knowledge.”
Former Henley Mayor, Barry Wood added, “I was recipient of Louise’s services and they are very good. I long remember her devotion to the Townlands Steering Group. I’d like to thank her for her immense and constant efforts. She was brilliant on our visit to 10 Downing Street. This town owes Louise an immense debt because Townlands was partly due to Louise (a major part). She is fantastic and I can’t sing her praises enough.”
Louise achieved her ‘highest’ achievement in her last week when Town Sergeant, James finally got Louise out on the Town Hall roof, something she’d wanted to do for the last 25 years.