Last Saturday was Polish Heritage Day and I was so pleased to join members of the Polish Community in Worcestershire to celebrate the occasion. We were honoured to have the Consul General, Mateusz St siek, join us for the day for the raising of the Polish flag in Cathedral Square and the laying of flowers at the War Memorial. We were all presented with a gift of bread and salt, which is a traditional greeting in Poland.
Later the Consul General and other members of the Worcestershire Polish Association joined me in the Guildhall forecourt for the unveiling of the bust of Polish pilot Franciszek Surma, about whom I have written before in this diary. I also opened the Battle of Britain exhibition which is a panorama about the brave Polish pilots and airmen who came to Britain’s aid in the Battle of Britain in WW2. It was a pleasure and an honour to be part of the celebrations and to meet the visitors who had come for the occasion.
It has been an international week. On Tuesday I had a Zoom meeting with the Mayor and Council in Gouzeaucourt to sign the Twinning Agreement, which was passed at our Council in March. Speeches were made and thanks to the skill and expertise of our translators, we could all understand what was being said. Jacques Richard, the Mayor of Gouzeaucourt and I signed our copies of the agreement at the same time. Then the National Anthems were played and we all drank a toast to friendship and co-operation – and long may our twinning last.
The City Council, County Council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections have taken place this week and by the time you read this some of the results will have been published. The right to cast a vote is a privilege we have in this country which is not shared all over the world – and many have fought long and hard in the past for that privilege. I hope you voted; whether your choice of candidate was elected or not, democracy has been exercised, with the resultant winners and losers.
You will have seen in yesterday’s paper that work has begun on Worcester’s Arches cultural hub near to the Hive building. More of the railway arches in that area, which have been underused for many years, are being transformed into useful and attractive buildings. The City Council, the University, Severn Arts, The Arch Company and Worcestershire County Council are working together to create a space for cultural activities in five of the arches there. I was delighted to join representatives from the other organisations for a photo on Monday to launch the £3m project, which has been awarded a grant from Government’s Cultural Development Fund. The work on these five arches, together with the work that has already taken place on other railway arches, is transforming the area from Foregate Street Station to the Hive and the riverside.
I had a very enjoyable, interesting and informative Charter 400 walk on Wednesday with Paul Harding from Discover History. We went through areas associated with Edward Hurdman, who in 1621 became the first Mayor of Worcester after the City was awarded a Charter by King James 1. Hurdman came from humble beginnings and through marriage and enterprise, became influential in Worcester – and eventually was in the right place at the right time to become our first Mayor. It is interesting to note that 400 years ago, fortune and fame was often as much down to luck and chance as it is today. Charter 400 is a new walking tour created by Discover History (www.discover-history.co.uk). I recommend it to those of you who want to find out more about Worcester’s history and also be entertained whilst doing so.
The Twinning Association of which I am President had another entertaining Zoom presentation on Wednesday evening. Members from France, Lithuania and USA joining Worcester and Droitwich representatives for a presentation on the role of a Magistrate in our judicial system.
As you read this on Saturday, I will be involved in Polish Heritage Day, but more about that next week.
This week has been busy with electoral commitments. As Mayor of our city I play a neutral role, avoiding any political discussion and not expressing political views when performing the role. I am, however, only able to hold the privileged position of Mayor because I am a City Councillor and was elected as Mayor by my fellow councillors last May. If I was not a councillor, I could not be Mayor, and so it is true of all past and future Mayors that first we have to be politicians in order to hold that office.
I have been honoured this week to be able to take part in the fifth Polish Heritage Day to be celebrated here in Worcester. I recorded a message which will be put on to a video to be presented and promoted by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London on 1st May, Polish Heritage Day. It is an opportunity for me to thank the Polish pilots and airmen for the part they played in WW2 in protecting Great Britain from invasion during the Battle of Britain. I was also able to say thank you to the Polish people living here who have shown a true community spirit during this year of pandemic, helping and supporting their neighbours.
On Friday and Saturday, I launched a series of talks and demonstrations for the City Council’s ‘Know Your Place Worcester’ and the NHS’s ‘Life Stories Worcestershire’. These free online platforms give access to hundreds of archive photos, historic maps and pieces of data which will enable people to discover more about their local area and explore the city’s heritage. This is a valuable and much-loved resource for local people to reconnect with their past – I was happy to share some of my memories with others at this launch.
I hope that you are enjoying the good weather and the new freedoms of being able to join with another household, or as part of a group of six, in the open air. Small steps to be taken with caution towards a more familiar way of life.
Since I wrote my diary last week we have heard of the sad death of the Duke of Edinburgh. My sincere condolences go to the Queen and all the Royal Family who are now mourning the loss of a dearly loved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. I attended a Memorial Service at the Cathedral on Friday afternoon to remember and pay respects to a man who devoted his life to public service and who will be sadly missed by many.
On Monday we experienced the first lifting of the lockdown restrictions and I visited the Tourist Information Centre at the Guildhall to wish them well. By the time I had arrived at 9.30am, someone had already been in to make a purchase, which was a good start to the week.
I popped to the shops again on Wednesday to say hello to Mr. Simms Sweet Shop in the High Street and I am pleased to say that they had been very busy since re-opening on Monday.
Business was also good for the traders at the Angel Market.
Afterwards I visited the newly opened cycle store in the Crowngate. Here you can leave your cycle safely, protected by CCTV, while you do your shopping and then if, when you return, you have a flat tyre, there is a repair kit on hand to help get you home. What more can our city cyclists need? Well done to Mike Lloyd at Crowngate Shopping Centre for thinking up this super idea.
It is not only the Mayor who has had an unusual year in office. On Thursday evening I was delighted to join the Rotary Club, Worcester Severn, for the presentation of the Geoff Palmer Awards to three people who had been outstanding in their volunteering work. Both the President of Worcester Severn and the District Governor of Rotary spoke of how their year in office had been very unlike anything they had expected. Thank you and well done to the recipients of the awards and all our volunteers in the city.
I hope you are all enjoying meeting friends and family again in the open air – simple things which we have missed and now value hugely.