It’s usually times of adversity and triumph that reveal a city’s true character. I am proud that the residents of Worcester have come out in support of the family and friends of missing teenager Thomas Jones. Worcester residents have taken to Thomas as one of our own and have shown warmth, kindness and a willingness to help. Thomas’s family has remained dignified and graceful and have shown real strength throughout this terrible time. As a City we stand as one with them. Please, please, if you have any information at all, regardless of how trivial you think it may be, contact the Police by calling 101.
On Friday I hosted the Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority awards. As always it was an amazing evening where officers of the H & W Fire Brigade, as well as the Police and Ambulance services, are commended for their acts of bravery and for long service. The Lord Lieutenant handed out awards to our brave officers and emergency service staff, to the delight of assembled friends and family. This recognition is thoroughly deserved and warranted.
Saturday saw the eightieth birthday of the Worcester Soroptimists Club. Sajeeda and I enjoyed a lovely evening with Club members from across Europe sharing the great memories, achievements and charitable contributions that have been made by women in the city and county.
Despite the best efforts of the weather to spoil the day, I was privileged enough to lead the first Pride March through Worcester last Saturday. Hundreds joined in and the Carnival atmosphere and party feeling in the City were self-evident, as the colours of the Rainbow flag flooded the streets.
As I said in my speech on the day, Love Not Hate must transcend all our communities. True love and equality can only be achieved when we respect the rights of others, celebrate our differences, tolerate those that we may disagree with but ultimately view each human life as equally special and valuable as our own – regardless of race, religion, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
Friday evening saw the Freedom of the City awarded to Basil D’Oliveria – an award that is long overdue. The Guildhall played host to Worcestershire legends and heroes who played alongside Basil. We were entertained by speeches from Norman Gifford, Lord Faulkner, Cllr Andy Roberts, Pat Murphy and Dave Bradley, who summed up the effect that Basil had not only in cricket, but on the world.
Basil D’Oliveira became a symbol of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, linking Worcestershire cricket to international politics in the process. Friday’s event was a fitting tribute to a man revered by many around the globe – he ranks alongside the acts of the great Jesse Owens in terms of sporting political statements or achievements to change world opinion. The memory of Basil will now live on forever in Worcester’s history.
And if that night wasn’t magical enough, then what was to follow was even more miraculous. On Saturday I was privileged to witness the greatest set of events in Worcestershire’s cricketing history in recent times! At Edgbaston little old Worcestershire, with 10 of the 11 fielded players England qualified, who had been written off by critics and pundits alike, etched their name into the history books by winning the Vitality T20 Blast Competition. This was a gargantuan and Herculean Task of David v Goliath proportion, which saw our team beating the star-studded Lancashire and the mighty Sussex in the process.
The crowd and I were delirious; it was a real moment to savour and cherish. On the sporting front we haven’t had much to celebrate recently so it is important to now celebrate this victory appropriately, to inspire the next set of Ben Coxes, Pat Browns and Moeen Alis.
This week Worcester has also bid farewell to the giraffes that have brought so much fun, joy, visitors and business to the city. They have brightened the mood of thousands and have been a pleasure and inspiration. Thank you, St Richards Hospice.
Long Live cricket; long live Worcester! What a wonderful, beautiful place – which according to the latest ‘Unbroken Britain’ survey is now officially the happiest city in the UK too!
With only about three hours sleep behind me I travelled down to Runnymede in Surrey with the Worcestershire Ambassadors to complete the Action Challenge, a 50k walk in aid of St Richard’s Hospice, with the group aiming to raise £50k.
With grit, determination and a bruised ego I managed to crawl over the line with a reasonably respectable time of nine hour and 39 minutes. Note to self: “Learn the lessons of the tortoise and the hare!” Thankfully we all managed to complete the race, battered, blistered and exhausted. Thank you for all your support! There’s still time to donate to this wonderful cause at www.justgiving.com/Jabba-Riaz.
The next day Sajeeda and I were hosted by the Freemasons at the Cathedral for their annual service. The Freemasons are an organisation that is so impressive and misunderstood. Hardly anyone realises that they raise millions in charity every year, coming only second to the National Lottery in terms of donations – impressive!
It is always good to learn about issues from other cities and towns across Europe and I was graciously hosted by Reverend Canon Dr Alvyn Pettersen to talk to visitors from Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany about the Cathedral’s role in our city, its relationship with the City Council, and a range of social issues. They were a fantastically receptive and knowledgeable audience from whom I will take away some valuable lessons.
Thursday evening saw the Worcester Sports Awards, a prestigious fixture in the civic calendar, when the great and the good of the sporting world in the city are recognised for their achievements. The awards ceremony was impressively hosted again this year at the University Arena with running stars Steve Cram and Allison Curbishley and BBC presenter Dan Pallett handing out the gongs. I would like to thank the sponsors, without whom these awards would not happen, and I was proud to see a childhood mentor of mine, Mike Underwood of Worcester Boxing Club (affectionately known as Uncle Mickey after the famous Rocky films), was recognised for his 40 years of dedication in helping youngsters in the city, keeping them of the streets, giving them focus and some purpose. Well deserved!
Last weekend saw the best of the City; I was honoured to host the Lord Lieutenant, MP Robin Walker and local leaders to officially open photographer Mike Sheil’s Fields of Battle – Lands of Peace exhibition, which is located in Cathedral Square for the rest of the month..
Mike and the Lord Lieutenant powerfully delivered inspirational speeches regarding the First World War and the fact that this was a truly global War. They particularly highlighted the vast number of lives which were sacrificed and lost for the Empire and the Crown from Africa and India –in fact many more than were lost from the UK. The exhibition is about peace and reconciliation. We are privileged to have it here in Worcester – and it’s free, so I urge you to go and see it!
After that I made a quick dash up to Acorns Hospice to say a massive thank you to the volunteers and staff there who were celebrating their 30th Birthday. Well done Acorns, keep up the great work!
The irony of the peace and reconciliation theme for the Fields of Battle exhibition was not lost when I attended the pro peace march in the city centre later that day. I was proud and humbled to have witnessed the amount of people that came out in to support my message of Love not hate, and who made use of the Worcester News ‘Best of Worcester’ hashtag.
I would like to thank the Police, emergency services and other agencies for a brilliant and well managed operation.
In the evening we were joined by the Cromwell Association for a procession to the Commandery to mark the annual Drumhead Ceremony. This was a delightful occasion as always, witnessed by around a hundred people on top of Fort Royal Hill. It finished with a gun and cannon salute.
Finally I joined Cllr Chris Mitchell in the Guildhall to witness the Peaky Blinders themed boxing night. Well done to the organisers and Guildhall staff for a well managed event – and to the participants who raised thousands for Birmingham Children’s Hospital – a cause close to my heart.
At the final count I was knocked out cold! A day that truly showed the best of Worcester.