I would like to say ‘hello’ to the members of the 1st Worcester Cubs’ group, joined me for a Zoom call this week. There were about 20 cubs in attendance and we had a question-and-answer session, with them asking the questions and me providing the answers. I enjoyed the call and I hope I will be able to meet them in person and show them round the Guildhall before my year comes to an end.
I don’t know whether you realise that next Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day? The theme this year is Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a post COVID19 world. In national politics less than 25% of people are female – and yet women’s full and effective participation and leadership in all areas of life makes progress for everyone.
At Worcester City Council we currently have 13 women councillors out of 35; that’s more than a third, so better than in some other councils. The first female Mayor of Worcester was Diana Ogilvy in 1931 to 1932. Only 16 women have held the position of Mayor in the 399 years that the role has existed in our city. I hope that there will be many more women in the coming years who will wear the chain and the robes and take on the role of First Citizen.
I am sure that like me, you are looking forward to Monday 8 March, when we start to ease out of the lockdown. Small steps to start with: on Monday our children will return to school and outdoor after-school sports and activities will be allowed. Most importantly people in care homes will be able to have one regular visitor with whom they can hold hands, and two people can meet up in an outdoor public space and have a drink or a picnic. Let’s hope we have good weather for that last one, but I bet you will see people out and about and meeting a friend whatever the weather. Yippee, roll on freedom!!
As I write this diary I am looking out at a blue sky and bright sunshine and have the promise of better times to come, now that we have our roadmap to freedom.
When I spoke to Mayor Joe Petty in Worcester Massachusetts this week, he was feeling optimistic about recovery too and we spent time talking about how later this year, they could help us to celebrate our four hundred year Charter, which first incorporated Worcester as a city and created the role of Mayor in 1621. Likewise, we will do all we can to help Worcester MA to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of their town next year. As I said to Joe, we beat you by 100 years – I am pleased to say it raised a smile! I was able to update the Twinning Association on the latest developments when I attended their AGM later that evening as President of the Association. We hope that twinning can add something to the celebrations on both sides of “the pond”.
The City Council held its budget setting meeting this week and with four motions to debate on top of the budget, I feel we did well to get through it in less than three hours. We commemorated the death of Peggy Neil, a past Mayoress of Worcester in the 1980s, with a minute’s silence. Until very recently Peggy’s husband Bernard was the only councillor to be Mayor of Worcester twice in modern times.
On Friday I recorded a speech to mark LGBTQ+ History Month this February. The rainbow flag has been flying in Cathedral Square all month in celebration. Worcester City Council is pleased to support local community groups such as Out2gether, Worcestershire Pride and the University of Worcester students in their efforts to raise awareness of our LGBTQ+ community and make Worcester an inclusive and welcoming place for all.
I am sure you all know that Chinese New Year fell on 12 February and this year we are entering the year of the Ox. Red is traditionally an important colour at Chinese New Year. People wear and decorate homes with this colour, and firecrackers are set off in celebration of the year to come. In Worcester we would normally have a crowd of people outside the Guildhall to welcome in the Chinese New Year with a dragon and brightly dressed performers and dancers, but of course as with so many events this year COVID has affected the way we marked the occasion. So, Monday found me on a Zoom call with Nina Das Gupta from BBC Hereford and Worcester, being interviewed instead about Chinese New Year.
The first year that we officially celebrated this event in Worcester was 1999, so it has now been an important fixture in the city’s calendar for 22 years. I was pleased to say in my interview how significant this festival has become and that it brings joy into the lives of so many people here, even though it will be online this year. It can be seen on YouTube at http://www.worcestershirechineseassociation.com/. We deeply value the contribution the Chinese people make to our multicultural society in Worcester and we enjoy celebrating with them.
I hope our school children are enjoying half term. I would normally be taking my grandchildren out for day trips and having fun, but times are anything but normal. This time I have had to make do with a walk with Dave. Not quite the same fun!!
I am pleased to see that the number of new cases of COVID continues to fall nationally as well as here in Worcester, and the vaccination programme is progressing well. While we can feel some relief at the promise of better times to come, please remember that our hospitals are still working overtime to cope with this disease, and therefore it is still absolutely necessary to observe the basic rules of lockdown.
As I write this, it is bitterly cold outside and the temperature is beginning to drop even further as darkness falls. This week it dropped to nearly -23 degrees in Braemar – and it doesn’t look like there will be much improvement on that tonight. What I also have in front of me is a vase of spring daffodils, and in spite of the cold outside these simple flowers give me hope of better times to come. We are approaching the one-year mark since most of us realised that there was something amiss in the world, in the shape of a new virus. Little did we know then how serious it would be and how much it would change our lives.
Another week in lockdown for me means another week when sadly I cannot come out to meet you and perform those special jobs that you expect from your Mayor. I have however not been idle. I attended a Zoom meeting of the Council’s Policy and Resources committee, at which we discussed and approved a budget for next year to be recommended to full Council in two weeks’ time. I also attended a trustees’ meeting of Worcester Community Trust, again by Zoom.
However, one of the nicest activities of my week was the Zoom meeting to launch the sensory lending library at Fort Royal Primary school. The Friends of Fort Royal, together with generous donors, raised enough money to buy over 200 pieces of equipment which will help the pupils to extend their period of concentration. While the children cannot access the equipment at school because of lockdown, they can now borrow it to aid their learning process. What a brilliant idea – many thanks to all those who raised this money to make this possible.
How have you used this lockdown time? Have you learned a new skill, read that pile of books, decorated that room, tidied the garden or decluttered your cupboards? If like me you have not done any of these, don’t be disheartened. The coronavirus rate continues to fall in Worcester and with the vaccination programme progressing, we will get through this.