Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Farewell To Office

Mayor's Parlour
Reverend Canon Harald Thomas (Chaplain), Me, Alison Ward (Chief Executive of TCBC), Stuart Evans (Deputy Mayor)

I made it! It's been an amazing year - surreal at times, sure, but something that I know will stay with me forever. I did about 250 official engagements, and have written about some of them that made the local papers in my 'In the Press' series. Below is the speech I gave at council today about my year in office... (It can also be viewed on the council webcast HERE.)

Deputy Mayoral Chains
Torfaen Deputy Mayoral Chains

It has been a real honour and a privilege to serve as Mayor this last year. I have met so many inspirational people, seen some of the truly amazing work going on in our community, and attended all kinds of weird and wonderful events. I've officially opened not one but two toilets, embarrassed myself countless times over in the name of charity, and blown the starting whistle at the Men's Roller Derby Associations' world championships.

(If, like me, you didn't even know the sport existed before hearing that, I highly recommend you check it out. It's great fun to watch!)

There has also been a more solemn side to the role. I attended the funerals of two former Mayors during my time in office - Doug Davies and Ann James - and, of course, this afternoon we have the funeral of another former Mayor, Bob Jones. I think that sense of upholding tradition, of being a civic representative, most hit home for me at remembrance events. Remembrance Day was especially moving, and I would like to thank my fantastic Mayoral cadet, Seren Gunningham of Torfaen Sea Cadets, for all her support.

In truth, there are more people I need to thank than I can possibly fit into this short speech. Everybody who invited me to an event, and everyone who supported my charity appeal: the money will be split three ways between Lincoln's Legs, Torfaen Mind, and Cyfannol Women's Aid. I specifically want to thank my Chaplain, Reverend Canon Harald Thomas; my Deputy Mayor, Stuart Evans; my Mini Mayor, Marianna; and my consort, Anthony Bird - who complained about the initial draft of this speech because he wasn't mentioned.

Anthony Bird, Torfaen Mayor's Consort 2017-18

I would also like to thank Chris Slade and everyone in the office for making up for my lack of organisational skills, my mum for babysitting above and beyond the call of duty, and Hywel Davies for everything. I literally would have been lost without him. I think I speak for all of us when I say that Hywel has been a real driving force in the role of the Mayor, and in the two decades he has been in the job he has shown nothing but dedication and professionalism of the highest standard.

I personally can't wait for his memoir!

Because this really is the end of an era. When I was first elected to the council in 2012 I was quite dismissive of the idea of us needing a Mayor. It seemed outdated and unnecessary, and I struggled to see the point. Over the years however I changed my mind - not, sadly, because I was getting paid £50,000 like some people assumed after the budget savings went public, but because I could see that it did matter to people. Actually serving as first Deputy and then Mayor was a real eye opener to how important the office still was to many members of the public, and the positive impact it had on people's lives.

What to you is just an afternoon of shaking hands and handing out certificates can be a really special memory to those involved. I have been incredibly touched to see how much it meant to people that I - or, perhaps more accurately, what I was representing by wearing the chains - attended their event.

Being apolitical for the year was a little lonely at times. You're not at group, and you don't see your colleagues as much as you usually would in committee, or the members' room. But it also gives you a unique ability to represent the authority without all the political baggage you would usually have. When you are elected you become the people's representative to the council, but as Mayor you become the council's representative to the people. I really hope going forward that we work to maintain that civic engagement with our residents and neighbours.

Mayoral Portrait
Sitting for my official Mayoral portrait

It felt very strange handing over the chairship of the council to the new Presiding Member - not least because it was me! The PM has to be chosen from committee chairs, so at Labour group I went through two rounds of voting to be selected as the nomination for chair of the learning communities scrutiny committee and then chair of council.

Today those nominations were accepted and agreed, so I'm looking forward to a whole new challenge!

Parts of this speech were quoted in the Pontypool Free Press (17/05/2018).

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

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