Monday, 04 July 2022

New Mayor starts ‘covid catch-up’ fund to help children

New Mayor starts ‘covid catch-up’ fund to help children

THE new Mayor of Henley wants to help children affected by the coronavirus pandemic, make Henley greener and bring volunteers together.

Michelle Thomas, 53, was officially sworn in at the mayor-making ceremony held in the Queen Elizabeth II hall at the town hall on Monday.

She received the chain of office from her predecessor Sarah Miller in front of an audience of about 100 people, including her husband David Horsley and children, Tom, 16, and Eleanor, 13, who live with her in Belle Vue Road.

Referring to the Queen’s jubilee celebrations next month, Councillor Thomas said: “I think you’ll see from my smile that I am so proud to be Mayor of Henley and a platinum mayor at that.”

She thanked the other councillors for electing her unanimously.

“Thank you for placing your confidence in me,” she said. “To have all of your votes means everything to me and I can assure you that this will sustain me throughout the coming civic year.”

Councillor Thomas, who organised a march in Henley in 2019 in protest at the lack of funding for schools, said she wanted to start a “covid catch-up” fund for the four state primary schools in the town.

She said: “The effect of the covid pandemic on children is long-lasting and complex. Researchers are just starting to analyse the way in which our children have been affected — it could be developmental delay, social interaction, mental health.

“I’m not going to set any criteria for how the schools decide to spend the funds. Teachers are best placed to decide what they need.

“If I can, I will try to release the first part of any funding raised for the start of the next academic year in September and if the fund can raise enough, I would like to include Gillotts School [a secondary] but we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Cllr Thomas, who is a member of the ruling Henley Residents Group on the council, was elected in 2019 and became chairman of the planning committee in 2020. She has served as Deputy Mayor for the past year.

Councillor Donna Crook, also of HRG, was sworn in as Deputy Mayor.

She said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be stood here and I really look forward to being Deputy Mayor with my daughter, Katie, as my cohort and to help support our wonderful new Mayor.

“Just to let you know, I’ll gladly step in whenever it’s anything to do with cake or dogs.”

The ceremony began with a minute’s silence for peace in Ukraine, which was followed by a prayer said by Rev Romey Poston, who was standing in for Rev Jeremy Tayler, the rector of Henley, who is isolating with coronavirus.

After being sworn in, the new Mayor said that one of Henley’s strengths was its capacity for volunteering, which was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, and she wanted to bring volunteers together.

She said: “Day to day, so many organisations and so many individuals give their time to so many causes. However, as a volunteer myself, I don’t find it easy to reach out to other volunteers and that got me thinking — how can we bring volunteers together in one place?”

She said Councillor Glen Lambert was helping to establish a social media page to be named the Henley Volunteer Network, which would be launched during National Volunteer Week in the first week of June.

Cllr Thomas said: “If there are any businesses out there which would be willing to help with this initiative, I would be most grateful.”

Moving on to fundraising for the Mayor’s charities in her year of office, she said: “Every mayor will tell you there is always just one thing that they are nervous about in their mayoral year. Well, this is mine: raising money.

“I’ve raised petitions, I’ve even raised a march, but I have never raised any money. The reason I think I fear this most is that nowadays I think many people associate raising money with great feats of pushing yourself physically and mentally — climbing a mountain, walking for miles, rowing the Atlantic.

“Well, I’m not going to do any of that. I have decided to make the Mayor’s charities open to all in Henley. Just Giving is my chosen platform and I really hope it will inspire people to do that — Just Give.”

Cllr Thomas will be supporting environmental group Greener Henley. She said: “What I like about them is that they don’t pretend they can solve climate change overnight but they do believe we can strive for a cleaner, greener Henley.”

Councillor Ken Arlett, twice a mayor, nominated Cllr Thomas.

He said he remembered speaking to her before the 2019 elections.

“I believe she was a little bit apprehensive about the amount of time she would have to give when elected so I suggested there were only a couple of evening meetings every six weeks,” said Cllr Arlett.

“Before I could say anymore, Michelle agreed to stand. Hence I had no time to mention sub-committee working groups, of which there are many.

Before being elected to the council, Michelle campaigned to keep the LA Fitness studio in Newtown Road as a community asset, which was eventually converted into, dare I say, another care home.

“For some reason, the home decided to close off the footpath for Mill Lane to Newtown Road. Three years later, Cllr Thomas is still trying to get the footpath re-opened. This is the type of determination she has brought to the council.

“Once elected to the council, she organised the educational march around the town. This was in protest at the lack of government funding for schools.

“Some 500 adults and children followed, many carrying banners. Cllr Thomas gave the most robust speeches before and after the march, receiving rapturous support from her followers.

“Two years ago, Cllr Thomas became chairman of the planning committee and, as I said at full council, she took to it like duck to water.

“The professional manner in which she has chaired the committee will keep her in good stead. Cllr Thomas has also been involved in sub-committees and working groups which I forgot to tell her about — I apologise — especially the neighbourhood planning group, where her support has been invaluable.

“Cllr Thomas has been an excellent Deputy Mayor over the past year. This duty has given her the strength and the confidence for her mayoral year ahead.

“It was no surprise when all the councillors supported her nomination for mayor-elect two weeks ago at full council.

“I’m sure that with the support of her husband Dave, who I know is really looking forward to this, and Tom and Eleanor, you’ll all have a fabulous year.”

Cllr Miller, who seconded the nomination, said: “I wish you all the very best. It has been a delight to have you as my deputy and I now look forward to working with you as my Mayor. Henley is very lucky.”

Cllr Thomas thanked her predecessor and Cllr Arlett.

She said: “Cllr Miller, you have been such fun to work with. Hopefully, I will be able to pick up where you left off seamlessly. Cllr Arlett, thank you for your nomination. I can assure you that I couldn’t have had a better teacher in you, especially with chairing plans.”

She went on to thank her employer, Leander Club, where she is office manager, the Henley Educational Trust and Tim Hoskins, headteacher of Badgemore Primary School, for teaching her so much about education in her three years as a councillor.

She also thanked her parents, Muryn and Paula Thomas, and her husband and children, joking: “You’ll see less of me but maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

Cllr Crook, 47, who has lived in Henley for 28 years and has three adult children, runs a local crafts business and is a self-employed cleaner.

She was elected to the council in 2017 and chairs the recreation and amenities committee.

She was nominated by Councillor Kellie Hinton, who called her “Henley through and through”.

Cllr Hinton said: “Many people had heard of Donna before she was elected because of her work campaigning to keep the local bus service running.

“Donna worked tirelessly to secure the service, knowing how important it was, not only to herself and members of her family, but to all the residents in the town, particularly the elderly population. When somebody is so passionate about their town, and they campaign so forcefully for what’s right, and they don’t give up even when the battle quickly becomes an uphill one, it is often the perfect fit for them to become a councillor and it was no surprise that Donna was elected.”

The nomination was seconded by Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak.

There was also a vote of thanks for the outgoing Mayor.

Councillor Ian Reissman said: “Sarah seems to know everyone in Henley. She was born and raised here and she lives here still with her partner Carolyn and their two daughters. Sarah is a true Henley girl and she is a true Henley mayor.”

He added: “She has not just filled the role, she has looked the part right from the start and after only one year, she looked as though she had being doing the job all her life.

“As mayor, you’re always in the spotlight and over the year, Sarah hasn’t put a foot wrong or said a word out of place — that’s no small achievement.

“Sarah has truly represented the best of Henley and in the best way possible. She is full of enthusiasm and energy and has played a very important part in bringing the town back to life out of the problems the pandemic brought us.”

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