Thursday, 07 July 2022

Fabulous year as Mayor that I will always cherish

Fabulous year as Mayor that I will always cherish

IT is a surreal experience writing a review of my year in office.

It has gone so incredibly quickly but it has been a remarkable experience and one I will cherish.

I have been privileged to meet so many wonderful people and attend many engagements. Each and every one has meant so much to me and made me realise what a wonderful community we have in Henley.

My year kicked off with mayor making on May 17, 2021. Because of the coronavirus restrictions it was a very small affair but, thankfully, my family here in Henley could attend.

After a lovely afternoon celebrating at the Row Barge pub it was go, go, go.

My first official engagement was at the Red Lion Terrace opening. It was a beautiful warm day and the owner of the Henley Boating company, Jim Sneddon, took myself and the family out for a trip on the river.

Nothing beats a boat ride on the Thames in the summer — we are so lucky in Henley. Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted the natural beauty that surrounds us.

It was a wonderful first engagement and my children were very impressed.

My first ribbon-cutting engagement was at Henley Scan, a super shop in Reading Road, and it was a lovely ooccaison.

Eva Rickett, who runs the business with her husband Graham, even provided a red carpet, glasses of bubbles and cakes.

Unbeknown to me, she had spoken to my partner Carolyn Ahara and asked her to provide a photograph.

Carolyn chose a wonderful picture of me on holiday with our girls, Vivien and Ruby.

Eva and Graham turned the photo into a mosaic effect poster which looks amazing hanging in pride of place in our dining room.
I had my first ever game of bowls at Henley Bowls Club followed by a fish and chip supper.

This was such fun and it was lovely to meet Sally Daniels and the teams. I had hoped my early years of playing marbles would be a bonus. Alas, it was not so.

An event I had never even heard of but I am so thankful for attending was the Historic Commercial Vehicle Society’s annual Ridgeway Run.

The station car park was full of wonderful historic commercial vehicles and the best bit was the Mayoress and I were given a ride through Henley on a fantastic vintage red fire engine. It was tremendous fun.

Although later than usual, it was great to have Henley Royal Regatta back and, as chief steward, I enjoyed five days watching some fantastic racing and enjoying the stewards’ enclosure with friends.

Daniel Grist, chairman of the regatta, ensured we had everything we needed. I invited friends and colleagues for all five days. We drank champagne, had afternoon tea and then went back to the racing.

It was a fabulous event and everybody was just so happy to see it back after the previous year when it was cancelled due to covid.

I enjoyed an evening with the Henley Army Cadets where I was shown around the Drill Hall in Friday Street and then watched a parade and some of the cadets training.

On this particular evening, I was able to present Lance Corporal Grace Iveson with her official Mayor’s Cadet certificate. Grace then accompanied me on most of my engagements and it has been a privilege to meet such a dedicated and professional young lady.

One event that really stands out is the Heroes’ Return, the Olympic rowers returning from Tokyo 2020.

I was invited to breakfast at Leander Club and then joined the athletes on the bus driving through Henley.

It was a magical day with thousands of people waving Union flags and applauding our wonderful
heroes.

I then gave a speech, which I must admit to having been a tad worried about, but it went down well. I think I even made it on to the telly!

It was a most memorable day, such a fantastic occasion, and is etched into my memory.

When I told the Mayor’s PA Leena Wisley that I wanted gospel singers at my civic service she looked a tad surprised and was a bit concerned how Rev Jeremy Tayler, the rector, would feel.

Civic services can be very long and sometimes a bit boring. We had just come out of lockdown and I wanted to bring some cheer to this service and get people clapping.

I was delighted when Jeremy encouraged the idea and I managed to book the Reading Community Gospel Choir, who performed three songs and urged everybody in St Mary’s Church to stand and clap.

It really was one of those moments of joy and delight seeing everybody take part.

We chose Shackles, Every Praise and Lean On Me and the choir sang them all beautifully.

This was the first time a mayor had chosen a gospel choir to perform at a civic service — let’s hope it’s not the last.

We had great fun when I invited 14 Henley cadets for tea at the town hall. They had never been, so myself and Councillor Ken Arlett showed them around the various rooms and finished off in the council chamber where the cadets staged a mock council meeting with me as chair. It was a lovely afternoon.

Another standout event was Remembrance Sunday. This is such a big event in Henley and the town council works very hard to ensure it runs smoothly.

I spoke about my grandfather, who fought with the Desert Rats. It was a day of thanks, of remembrance and hope for a future of peace, tolerance and inclusion.

Being the introverted person that I am (NOT!), I was delighted to be invited by the Kenton Theatre to help promote the forthcoming pantomime, Cinderella.

They wanted to record me in my mayor’s regalia and then to apply lots of make-up as I slowly transformed into one of the Ugly Sisters.

It was such fun meeting the cast and watching Marni Spiers do her magic with the make-up.

I’ve been writing songs for some time now but I’ve never had the courage to do anything with them.

Writing a Christmas song was a challenge but it was something I had wanted to do for some time and to include places in Henley that people could relate to.

A good friend of mine called Pete Maguire added some magic to the song and the very talented Matt Richardson agreed to sing it.

The outcome was just perfect and we recorded it quickly.

My plan was to use the song to encourage people to donate to my Mayor’s charities but we didn’t know how we could do this unless we made a video. This is when the fabulous Richard Pinches offered to film us singing the song in
Henley.

We spent a very cold morning recording on the steps of the town hall, by the Angel on the Bridge, on the zebra crossing outside Friar Park and in the Row Barge. It was raining and absolutely freezing and we had to repeat the song over and over and over again.

But it was worth it — the outcome was wonderful and the feedback from everybody who watched it was incredible.

If would like to see the video, the link is https://youtu.be/RXKaDhHO9FU

And pass it on to Sir Elton, just in case he wants to record it.

During the Christmas Festival we got to sing Henley on Christmas in front of hundreds of people. That was fun.

Christmas in Henley is one of my favourite times. Although sadly we didn’t have the Living Advent Calendar, we were still able to provide additional lights in the town and encourage people to come and shop locally during the festival. It’s a wonderful event.

I love drag and I know many people enjoy karaoke, so I decided that we should have a drag karaoke evening in the town hall to raise funds for my charities.

I wanted an event that would appeal to everybody, that had an affordable ticket price and would be a great night out.

I was put in touch with drag artist Just May who was outrageous and funny and I knew she would provide a great night’s entertainment. The event was a sellout and we raised more than £1,000.

The Over-60s Christmas lunch was a hoot. Mike Hurst had us all singing and I found out, much to the dismay of those playing, that I enjoyed calling the bingo numbers. It was lots of fun.

Each year I organise the Santa Fun Run and although very busy with mayoral duties, I really wanted to do so again.

With a little sponsorship from Rupert House School, we had the best turnout we’ve ever had and raised just more than £900 for my charities.

International Women’s Day has always been an important day in my diary and this year as Mayor I decided to organise an invite-only event for local businesswomen.

Grace Leo at the Relais Henley kindly hosted the event and we had a wonderful line-up of speakers. It was a super evening and I very much hope to repeat this next year.

I was honoured to meet the Slovenian ambassador and her staff when they visited Henley. We enjoyed refreshments in the Mayor’s parlour and then I showed her where we had placed her gifts to the town of Henley.

At Gillotts Field we had a beautiful linden tree and traditional hay rack gifted to us by the people of Slovenia.

At the end of the mayoral year, it is customary to hold a civic dinner which I did at Phyllis Court Club.

More than120 people attended, who included family, friends (old and new), work colleagues and people I have been fortunate enough to meet during my year. It really was a wonderful evening.

Jonty Hearnden kindly offered to be MC for the night and encourage everybody to spend on the auction. All proceeds will go to my charities.

I had a day to recover and then I was in the market place at 8.30am organising the stalls for the May Fayre, which I organise every year.

Sadly, we had to cancel the event last year due to covid so this year we hoped that it would be well attended and it certainly was.

I was delighted to see so many people this year, all enjoying the entertainment and taking part in some of the attractions.

The whole town was buzzing with activity, which was lovely to see and so worth all the hard work.

I’ve had a fantastic year as Mayor and I’ve enjoyed every minute. Now I plan to take a short holiday and relax.

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