Mike Underwood

I doubt that anybody reading this column will not be aware of Mike’s passing. It is a mark of the man and his influence in the community that the Phoenix printed two pages of tributes in its edition of 13 July.

I first met Mike ten years ago when I became Town Clerk. I was immediately struck by his energy, enthusiasm and persuasiveness. He had this ability to energise people to get involved in projects and within the community. It was certainly hard to say no to him!

When I met him first the Chudleigh Parish Plan had not long been completed, a project that Mike very much led. It must have been galling both to him and the rest of the Parish Plan Team when the Government announced that Parish Plans were to be succeeded by the Community Masterplan. So the same routine of getting together a team, consulting with the community, drafting and re-drafting (many, many times) the content started. It took around two years to complete the Masterplan and it was pleasing to be told by other agencies that it was very much best in class. So, job done then? No, not really; Mike’s return to his allotment was to be delayed again.

So, what happened? Once again the Government changed direction (are you seeing a pattern here?). Masterplan, previously hailed as the definitive community policy document, was ditched – about six months after the team had completed it. The Government decreed that Masterplan would be replaced by Neighbourhood Development Plans. This came with a whole new set of rules and protocols so just changing the front cover of the Masterplan was not an option.

I honestly have no idea how Mike, Graham Wall and the rest of the team summoned up the will and enthusiasm to go again. Initially they thought it could be done in a year – it took three. So, the roundabout of consultation, drafting policies, consulting again and redrafting the policies started again. Some of the policies that Mike championed drew him into conflict with District Council planning officers. Mike didn’t mind that and was happy to stand his ground. I also suspect that he quite enjoyed winding them up! I think he would have been surprised to learn that I received emails from two of those planning officers asking how they could pay their respects. A mark of the man.

On 13 February 2020 the electorate of Chudleigh voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Chudleigh Neighbourhood Development Plan. I am so glad that Mike was able to be around to see that happen. It was a close-run thing: A month later central government cancelled all elections until May 2021.

Mike was about a lot more than Masterplan and NDP. He did a lot of his work outside of Council but was persuaded to become a councillor in May 2015, becoming Mayor in 2017/18. His achievements were many:-

  • The creation of the green burial ground at Tower Hill was wholly his idea and vision. When he outlined the concept my feeling was that it had legs but would be a slow burner. I was wrong. Explosive would have been a better description than slow burn. We were selling plots before the burial ground had been completed. Now, some two years later, it is more popular than the “traditional” burial ground.
  • Mike worked closely with the sports club committee to create a landing spot for the Devon Air Ambulance. The first time that there has been a landing option in Chudleigh.
  • He created the first Town Council newsletter to be delivered to every household in the parish. He also wrote most of the content!
  • Mike was an enthusiastic allotment plot holder, having a plot at Tower Hill for many years. Most allotmenteers mind their own business and get on with tending their plot. Not Mike. As with everything else he did, he set about creating a team spirit and sense of purpose amongst the plot holders. This has led to the plot holders organising and delivering several projects to improve the site.

It is unusual, I think, for one man to have had so much impact and influence on their town. His service to this community was unstinting. He will be very much missed and impossible to replace.