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Speech as outgoing Mayor

It was a huge privilege to serve as the Mayor of Reading from 2021 to 2023. We are a generous, big hearted town, a town of bridges not walls and it has been a true honour. I stepped down at the council AGM on 24th May. As part of the ceremony I was given the opportunity to address the council. The text of my speech is below, it was interrupted part way through by a shout of ‘Slava Ukraini’ to which I responded ‘Heroam Slava’…

“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.

This proverb has resonated with me over the last 3 years, and especially the last 18 months.   I owe a debt of gratitude to so many of you.

  • Firstly, and most importantly to my family.  Richard, my official escort and Sophie and John, my frequent, unofficial escorts, you know how much you’ve supported me in both public and private and I’m so very lucky. 
  • The Mayor’s office is also extremely lucky to have the day in day out work of Dennisha, Lucy and Sian – the events team who seem to be everywhere and doing everything. 
  • Whether it’s dealing with major royal events that no one in living memory has had to organise, fixing power cables, helping coordinate some of my more unusual ideas or just managing the complexities of the over 400 engagements I undertook, along with the additional responsibilities taken on by the Deputy Mayors you are a brilliant team.
  • Richard has something for each of you. 
  • (Applause)
  • I have been extremely lucky in serving alongside two wonderful women as Deputy Mayors, Ayo formerly Cllr Sokale, whose exuberance and enthusiasm are truly infectious, while the outgoing Deputy Mayor – Cllr Edwards, Debs, and of course her husband Alun, have been wonderful company when we have jointly attended events and have ably stepped up whenever I’ve asked, particularly visiting Clonmel for St Patrick’s Day.  Cllr Edwards has also provided the wisdom and support that comes from being one of the few people to the served as Mayor twice.  Thank you both.
  • I’m also very grateful for the kindness and logistical help from Craig and Ian.  Your help has been invaluable. 
  • The tolerance and behind the scenes help from my colleagues at Holy Brook has been fantastic, especially Samun and Fiona who are here tonight.
  • I also want to thank my generous ward colleagues, Cllr Leng and Cllr Mpofu-Coles – whether we happened to be attending events together or they provided cover for me when needed or just a chat with a real mate – Team Whitley is tightknit.
  • I am grateful to all my friends and colleagues in the Labour group, who have shown real comradeship.
  • I’d also like to thank the Honorary Aldermen, those Opposition groups who attend civic events and support the Mayors work, the Lord Lieutenant, his DLs and the 3 High Sheriffs I have worked with and Matt Rodda MP, and his office who have been very supportive – it must be pretty unusual for the local MP and 2 of his team to run the half marathon for the Mayor’s charities.
  • When you become Mayor you also join a sort of informal club, and I’m very grateful to all the previous Mayors who have provided support and advice, especially my immediate predecessor David and his Mayoress Alison for their kindness and help.
  • I’m grateful to the many friends I’ve made across the wider Reading area, particularly those who support our young people.  Including the those at Reading University, our schools, Brighter Futures for Children  and young people themselves including the youth council:  There is no more important role than giving our young people the best start in life and you are making that happen.
  • Indeed thank you to all the people who make being Mayor such a privilege the amazing voluntary groups, public and private sector organisations and people of across Reading.  You make Reading the special town it is.

We are a generous and big-hearted town. 

We are a town of bridges not walls. 

We of course have many residents who are our bridges to the rest of the world and other communities around the country.  It has been my honour to help confer British citizenship on new citizens, welcome new arrivals from across the world and to reach out to our twin towns, both virtually and to visit Dusseldorf and welcome visitors from our other twin towns and from Reading Pennsylvania.  Representing our town externally matters, but it’s the work within Reading that I will remember most.

The work of Mayor reflects our town and the Mayor’s job is to both part of Reading’s story but also reflect Reading’s story back to us.

There is a time for everything in that story and that has certainly been the case since 2021.  We have had times of celebration, and it has been my privilege to celebrate with communities and take part in festivals, cultural, and sporting events across town. 

We have had many times of mourning too, and it has been my duty to stand with people in those times, whether marking the death of her late Majesty, remembering the victims of the Forbury attack, those we have lost due to Covid or more personal griefs.

Being the Mayor brings privilege and gives an opportunity to show solidarity to those who need it.  I’m proud to have stood LGBT people at Reading Pride and other events, with refugees needing sanctuary, to have marched with fellow women to reclaim the night, to have stood against racism and prejudice based on religion and disability.  Sadly I have also supporting those struggling to make ends meet as the economy has flat lined and those who have fled domestic violence or survived FGM.  The platform being Mayor has given me has been helped me to help with the breaking of taboos on mental health, the end of life – we need to recognise and talk about death more as a society – and neurodivergence, Mr Mayor, I hope I have used the privilege of Mayor to be an ally and friend, reflecting the values we hold dear as councillors and as a town.

I have of course also stood with solidarity with friends in the Ukrainian community.  While I chose three wonderful charities to fundraise for back in November 2021, the overwhelming desire of the town to support Ukraine when Russia launched it’s full-scale invasion meant that it felt right to also launch a second appeal.  Reading Ukrainian Centre has become a haven and a beacon for so many.  Mr Mayor, I am – of course – in the tradition of our predecessor Phoebe Cusden – a red woman through and through but, part of my heart beats yellow and blue.  As other concerns come to the fore and the cost of the invasion grows, we must not waver in solidarity and I am grateful that Reading has not wavered with a wonderful concert a couple of months ago that added to the funds raised as well as celebrating Ukrainian culture and democracy.  Ukrayina peremozhe

The partnership I have had with them has not detracted I hope from the strong relationship I’ve had with each of my Mayoral charities.  The Alliance for Cohesion and Racial Equality, Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice and Parenting Special Children will each remain in both my heart and continue make a real difference to the life of our town.  I was proud to bring back the tradition of beating the bounds, as part of my fundraising for them, Mr Mayor, I hope you will rise to the challenge laid down by those who took part that future Mayors to consider undertaking at least part of the 35 mile circular walk.  It is a memory that will stay with me for life.

Across both appeals I’m proud to say we have raised over £28,000.  I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed, despite the many pressures on people’s finances at the moment.  The support I’ve had has been the best of Reading.

Reading at our best is somewhere we can with some justification say is one of if not the best places in the country.  Certainly I am proud to say we are the greatest town.

Reading is not a melting pot, we are a tapestry.  A town full of people from many cultures, lifestyles and beliefs, and we are stronger for this and we celebrate it.

At our best we are an open town that welcomes and connects, a town at ease with itself and the world it occupies.  We are a community and a town with a proud heritage and history, but we wear it lightly.  The promise of Reading is that we can live in a sustainable town, with a strong identity but open to all and a wonderful future to look forward to. 

We don’t always live up to this promise, despite all I’ve said there is so much to improve and to work on and as you said in your speech Mr Mayor, too much inequality.  I hope that I will continue to play my part in building a better Reading as there are so many challenges we face.  However, being able to spend so much time with the young people and children of the town this year has given me huge hope for our future.  I can’t wait to live in the world they are going to make.  Our young people will be at the forefront of changing the world but we must all be determined to make things better and the role of  Mayor can be a catalyst for this.

Mr Mayor, as you know very well each Mayor brings a different style and approach but we are all a link in Reading’s story.  We link the past and the future and we link the people of Reading to each other. I know you will add your own experience and perspective and be a strong link in our history.

I’m delighted to hand over to you, you are proud our big-hearted town and you have already given a lifetime of service. I know you and Michael and our new Deputy Mayor and Mayoress will do our town proud.

As for me, I will have more time for my family, more time to actually get some work done, more time for my garden and of course, more time for Whitley. 

I also look forward to, more time for politics.”

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