Brighton and Hove Mayor tells the inside story of his extraordinary year

Posted On 23 May 2013 at 9:39 pm
By Bill Randall

What a year to be Mayor! With meetings I flew about 800 missions. All the usual great and diverse stuff that makes our city so extraordinary: Pride, the Brighton Festival, the Fringe, the Open Houses, the Mackerel Fayre, the Marathon, the Albion, Burning the Clocks, the Veteran Car Run, the university graduation days, citizenship ceremonies and countless community events, plus the icing on my year of the Olympics and the Jubilee.

The Jubilee figured large: street parties and church services from Kemp Town to Hangleton. Lighting the beacon on Hove seafront and attending a thanksgiving service in Chichester Cathedral matched the following day in pomp and circumstance by the Golden Handbags Awards in Brighton’s Hilton Hotel.

The city celebrated the Olympics with the unveiling of the new Steve Ovett statue and by granting Steve the Freedom of Brighton and Hove. The great man turned out to be all the things you would hope for in a hero.

Mayor Bill Randall with former Olympic champion Steve Ovett and his old teacher Sylvia Baker - picture by Tony Mould

Mayor Bill Randall with former Olympic champion Steve Ovett and his old teacher Sylvia Baker – picture by Tony Mould

Welcoming the Olympic torch to the city and seeing it off the next morning were other highlights. And the oldest torchbearer in Brighton and Hove, Sylvia Baker, turned out to be one of Steve Ovett’s teachers at Balfour Junior School. A warm reunion took place in the Mayor’s Parlour.

I joined the Olympic opening and closing celebrations at the big screen on the beach where I was asked if I was a rapper because I had “the bling”. It was a genuine question, late in a convivial evening.

On three other occasions I was asked if I was the real Mayor or somebody in fancy dress.

More sport. I missed six penalties in a row when I opened the hockey pitches at Blatchington Mill School (wrong shoes, you understand).

On the other hand, I did beat Gully and Dick Knight at ping pong but then was roundly defeated by a 14-year old girl who is very good indeed.

And I’d rather forget about my game with the UK number one women’s player.

I rolled the first bowl at eight greens from Portslade to Rottingdean to mark the opening of the bowls season.

I also tried my hand at archery, boccia, short mat bowls, tai chi, basketball and wheelchair football but drew the line at zumba dancing.

I was there when Whitehawk FC were promoted to the Conference League and when the Albion missed out at the end of a very good season, which most of us would have settled for last September.

I started my year with a multi-faith service at the Unitarian Church, attended ceremonies to welcome a new Bishop of Chichester, a new Rabbi at the Reform Synagogue and a new Minister at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church.

I also went to a Ramadaan dinner, 14 carol and Christmas services and several patronal or saint’s day festivals, including a spectacular high church event at St Bart’s that included Haydn’s Nelson Mass beautifully sung.

However, my lasting image of the many faith communities in our city is of two girls playing football in All Saints Church, Hove, after a special Festival Service.

Mayor Bill Randall with his wife Heather

Mayor Bill Randall with his wife Heather

It is a reminder of how much churches and vicars like Father Phil at All Saints, Father Robert at St Nicholas and Father John at St Andrew’s Moulsecoomb have opened up their churches to the community.

I sang (sort of) with the Brighton Morris Men to raise money for my three charities – Allsorts, the Women’s Centre and the Martlets.

The Morris Men danced in the lobby of Brighton Town Hall for the first and possibly the last time.

Elsewhere, my wife Heather and I had a very funny evening at the Max Miller Society Dinner where Roy Hudd was in great form.

The Brighton Toy and Model Museum granted me the rare honour of operating the Coronation Scot and (more small boy time) I was allowed to ring a fire engine bell at the Commercial Vehicle Run on the seafront.

And Heather and I had a ride in a veteran car from Preston Park to Madeira Drive in the pouring rain and gale-force winds.

At Charleston House I heard Asa Briggs and Ian McEwan in a profound conversation that marked the 50th anniversary of Sussex University, in Wild Park I went to the 30th Moulsecoomb Family Fun Day and in the Mayor’s Parlour we celebrated 25 years of the Carers’ Centre.

The Mayor’s Parlour is rarely quiet. School councils from across the city come to see the Mayor and visit the council chamber.

The children are genuinely overwhelmed by the chains, the regalia and history of the city.

They all have a go at holding the mace with the help of Robbie, the Mayor’s minder, who is possibly the best-known man in Brighton and Hove.

Interestingly, all this tradition has the same effect on visiting adults.

A group of solicitors from a local firm responded in exactly the same way as the kids, posing with the mace and the robes before going into the grand Victorian council chamber, which reeks of more than 150 years of democracy and overwhelms most people, including the solicitors, on their first visit.

In the past year the parlour has also welcomed a host of local community groups, members of the business and arts communities and the universities, national organisations like the Red Cross, and visitors from France, Finland, Italy, China and South Korea, Iceland, China, Sweden, Iraq, Turkey and Uganda.

Often on parade, Heather and I walked at the front of the Children’s Parade in the rain and at the front of the Pride Parade in the sun.

We went to five remembrance services in Brighton and Hove on 11 November and 13 in Dieppe to mark the 70th anniversary of the landings in August 1942.

Many of the Canadian soldiers who died on the beaches at Dieppe were billeted in Brighton and Hove before the raid and the connection has been maintained ever since.

Mayor Bill Randall at the Gold Star Awards for looked after children

Mayor Bill Randall at the Gold Star Awards for looked after children

Culture plays a big part in every Mayor’s year. In mine it started with Michael Tippett’s King Priam in the 2012 Festival and finished with the remarkable Sam Lee, Thomas McCarthy and Friends singing traditional songs from the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities in a sold-out All Saints Church this year.

Of the other cultural events, the Hangover Square film set in last year’s festival deserves a special mention because it embodies the spirit of partnership that is such a hallmark of our city. Commissioned by House 2012, it was a collaboration between Cinecity, the Festival, Brighton University and 400 students from City College who built the sets.

Another collaboration that marks my year was that between my three charities.

The Martlets is a big and successful organisation that has to raise £9,000 a day to keep its doors open.

Generous to a fault, it shared its expertise and capacity with the much smaller Brighton Women’s Centre and Allsorts.

All three do a fantastic job for the communities they serve and like so many organisations in our city they rely on volunteers to support them.

It is the volunteers and other remarkable people I will remember most from my year.

The best people of our city, they’re not necessarily the wealthiest or the most celebrated, but those who work for their neighbours and their communities, their bowls clubs, football clubs, choirs and other groups.

Among their number are the nurse I met running a clinic for homeless people in the back of a St John ambulance on the seafront on bitter February night, having already done a day’s work in the renal unit at the Royal Sussex; Colin Bradford and Jill Mitchell who have organised the Moulsecoomb Family Fun Day for the past 30 years; and the 11-year-old boy who comes from home school and takes over as his seriously ill mother’s carer until he goes back to school the following morning. He is one of 23,000 unpaid carers in our city.

They and all the other carers and volunteers deserve our praise and support, as do the private and public sector workers, many of them in low-paid jobs, who contribute to the city’s welfare.

The great privilege of my year has been meeting these people from all communities.

I thought I knew the city pretty well. After a year as Mayor I know it a lot better. More importantly, I know more of the people who actually make it work.


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