Sunday, 12 March 2017
Speech to Mayor’s Ball – Saturday 11th March 2017
Good evening Ladies and Gentleman, It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to the Carnegie Rooms this evening for the annual Mayor’s Charity Ball.
Tonight is a celebration of our community, it is an opportunity to raise money for charity and yes, tonight is also about having a good time – which I really hope you all do.
Having been born and raised in Thetford, I thought I knew a fair amount about our town. I went to school here, I grew up here and I’ve served as a Councillor for nearly 10 years. This past year serving as your Mayor has however been somewhat of an eye opener. I’ve met groups I never knew existed and discovered support mechanisms going about their work very much under the radar.
Groups such as Link Up, the talking newspaper for the blind and partially sighted – whose volunteers are helping in excess of 100 people a fortnight to stay in touch with local news. Thetford Dementia Support group who’s Christmas Party I joined and saw how they comfort those battling the debilitating illness and provide support for those caring for them. A visit to the Thetford Breathe Easy group revealed how people with illnesses such as COPD are still very much enjoying life – incidentally, they hold the record so far for the longest raffle that I’ve been present for with in excess of 50 prizes.
I’ve learnt about our heritage – aspects that I never fully understood or appreciated. I’ve been down a pit at Grimes Graves - wearing the Mayoral chain. I spoke at the gravesite of Maharajah Duleep Singh to commemorate the anniversary of his death – I’ve almost worked out how to pronounce Maharajah – although I’m not quite there. I’ve attended the handing over of a first edition book by Thomas Paine and visited the Charles Burrell Museum – so many fascinating aspects about our heritage.
I’ve learnt about of twin towns and better understood our twinning relationships – I’ve delivered a speech in our twin town of Hurth in Germany, received the Mayor of our twin town of Skawina in Poland here in Thetford in Kings House gardens for afternoon tea and been the guest of our twin town of Les Ulis in France for a sound and light show highlighting the history of Les Ulis since its birth 40 years ago – incredibly I went to Les Ulis as an 11 year child as part of a school trip to celebrate its 20th birthday and the signing of our twinning agreement with Thetford and then returned 20 years later as the Mayor of the town I was born in.
I’ve also endured the consternation of the French when I admitted I didn’t like red wine and witnessed the sheer horror on a German translator’s face when visiting Versailles in France and Corinne asked them to translate “ostentatious”. Similar horror that was probably visible on my face when Corinne started to talk to the German delegation in a confined space about Dads Army and the War – clearly forgetting that they “don’t like it up em”.
During the year I’ve also sought to improve community cohesion and represent the whole of Thetford – I’ve visited the Polish Language School which I helped to officially open along with representatives from the Polish embassy and I’ve opened a new Portuguese run support service with the Portuguese ambassador – almost caused a diplomatic incident when I highlighted in my speech that the Ambassador had not brought with him any ferroro roche. I’ve welcomed the Deputy Mayor of Nagawa, Japan who we are now twinned with through grimes graves and the obsidian mines in Nagawa. I now know what obsidian is and I can sing you a catchy song about it as well and I know of its similarities to our flint. We’ve also co-ordinated an event to mark and support the United Nations International Day of Tolerance.
I can now tell you what a black and white horse is – a piebald – thanks to the Thetford Mastermind final – I was told that no, it wasn’t in fact a zebra. I’ve learnt that some people really, really love hats – some can’t wait to take them off, some can’t hold back in forcing others to keep them on. Yes, 2016 has not only been the year of Donald Trump and Brexit, it’s been the year of hatgate as well.
Talking of the Council, I asked on social media this week for some advice on what to include in my speech this evening and how to make it funny. Talk about dicks said one of those that commented – they’re always good for a laugh. But seeing as those Councillors aren’t here I’ll just move on.
Without doubt however, visiting schools and youth groups across Thetford has been a particular highlight this year and it has shown that our young people are bright, they’re full of energy and they’re certainly inquisitive. I hope through those visits at least young people are aware of a little bit about our democratic institutions and failing that – they at least now know that No, I am not the King, I do not live in a Castle, I’m not a millionaire – and no, Corinne Fulford is not my stalker, even though as pointed about by one young person, and I quote “she follows you everywhere”.
I’ve been able to compare and contrast life today for young people in Thetford with my own – growing up in a small market town with limited opportunities and limited transport links can be tough – add to that mix today that everything is seen through the prism of social media, or a camera, everything is documented and recorded and accessible – makes it all the more difficult and the challenges, particularly mentally, all the harder to overcome.
That is why, profits raised from this evening, including the raffle, will go towards my Mayor’s Charity Fund which this year is supporting groups locally providing services and opportunities for children and young people, groups such as the Benjamin Foundation and Meet Up Café, groups such as Thetford Community Association and Charles Burrell Centre who are all represented here this evening. I urge you to give generously and thank those local businesses that have provided raffle prizes. I particularly thank the main financial donor for the ball itself Lawsons Estate Agents who have given generously to help cover some of the costs staging this evening -
There have been some emotional moments this year, plenty of frustrations, but this year has been such fun as well – taking the Lord Mayor of Norwich in full robes and chains on the waltzers at Kings Lynn mart was a particular highlight, supporting 39 events during the two week Thetford Festival, the 80s disco and Christmas quiz as well. Thank-you to everyone that played a part and embraced and supported the year.
Another highlight was undoubtedly the Lord Mayors Parade in Norwich – my seating position on the official platform led to many thinking that I was in fact the Lord Mayor, highly embarrassing, but thankfully taken in good spirit by the actual Lord Mayor, who has referred to me as the Deputy Lord Mayor for the remainder of the year, so much so that staff at County Hall also refer to me as Lord Mayor. The procession was also a highlight for Corinne, she came face to face with the Star Wars appreciation society and Chewbacca – for those that don’t know Corinne has a thing for Chewbacca – so I have a little gift for her.
Corinne please stand – this Ball probably wouldn’t’ have happened if it were not for Corinne, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened to the same standard, Corinne has supported me immensely in my year as Mayor, so I’d like to ask you to all put your hands together – Corinne, thank-you.
I thank also the local organisation’s that have crafted the fantastic table centre pieces this evening – each depicting an aspect of Thetford – you’ll see on your table a sheet for choosing your favourite – this is in part designed to encourage you to walk round and view each table and appreciate what’s on offer.
As these tables confirm, we have much to be proud of in Thetford; we have environmental assets and heritage that are the envy of many, we have people rich in passion with unending potential. We are geographically placed to reap great rewards.
Let’s tonight celebrate what we have, and tomorrow continue to spread that positive message and work to make Thetford greater than it already is.
Thank-you and enjoy your evening.