FENLANDER: Home is where the vote is for Bernard - his conservatory to be precise!

THERE’S one person who won’t have any trouble getting to vote next Thursday. That’s Bernard Darlow: his polling station is not just on his doorstep, it’s inside his home.

To be precise, it’s in his conservatory at Chapel Cottage, Coldham, and it’s Fenland’s most unusual elections venue.

Next week’s local elections and national referendum will be nothing new for Bernard. His home has served as a polling station “for about 30 years”. He’s unsure of the exact year he started, or the number of polls he has hosted, but it must be nearly 30.

It all began when George Harmston, the man then in charge of elections in Fenland and the Elm parish clerk, was looking for somewhere new to hold the poll. Previously, they had used the village school and the pub, but one had closed and the other was no longer available.

“George rang me up and said ‘would I do it’ and I agreed. It’s gone on from there,” he says.

Now a sprightly 81-year-old, Bernard has lived in Elm and Christchurch Ward all his life, except for a few years spent in Bermuda as a soldier. He trained as a butcher before switching to growing fruit in the 1960s.

For him, polling day is a pleasure. “It’s great fun. I meet everyone and renew old acquaintances from fruit-picking days,” he said.

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“I stop and have a chat with all of them. The police pop in and some of the councillors. We’ve always had really good, friendly staff from the council and we’ve never had any problems.”

He is no stranger to the election process, having served as a parish councillor for about 25 years. But, he says, “when I was doing it, I never actually had to fight an election - I was returned unopposed year after year. There’s always them who’ll do the moaning about things but not so many who’ll have a go at doing anything about them”.

He hasn’t always been first to vote in Coldham. “Although I live here, I actually got beaten to the polling station one time,” he laughs. “There was a bloke who had to leave for work early and he was here on the doorstep waiting for the girls to arrive and say ‘It’s 7am, time to open’.

“I’m looking forward to next Thursday – it’ll be nice to see everyone again.”

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