It is exactly a month since passing on the office of Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow to my colleague, Councillor Bishnu Bahadur Gurung, a member for Hanworth Park Ward. It is also a couple of weeks since I fulfilled an earlier request to speak at the annual general meeting of the Osterley and Wyke Green Residents Association, on the subject of, Your Councillor as Mayor. What follows, is pretty much what I said.
It’s a great pleasure to be here albeit online at the Osterley and Wyke Green Residents Association, an organisation with which I have spent a fair amount of time with when first a councillor in the 1990s and also these past seven years.
Glad you’re thriving and happy to support this continuing.
I have had an interesting and fulfilling two years as the 55th Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow. The capital city’s widest borough where I had the honour of wearing the current as well as historic chains one of the three different predecessor councils at each of the 340 rendezvous I was privileged to attend, almost totally within our boundary.
Although, being Mayor of this lovely borough, whatever anyone may say about its politics or sometimes less than shiny and occasional pockets of disdain, I have seen great examples of community, enthusiasm and ambition when visiting from west to east and stopping there and in between at those many engagements.
A few times, I have been asked how I became Mayor and, very recently, there have been some assumptions that I would be standing again for that office during the London Mayor and Assembly elections that took place on 6 May 2021. It doesn’t work like that, all up elections for the London Borough of Hounslow are scheduled for 5 May 2022.
Common with other councils who have a mayor, it is mostly the prerogative of the Majority Group, running the council, to choose from among their selves who the first citizen should be.
I did fancy the role, and made it known that I should like to give it a go and received the support of most (although not all) of my Labour administration colleagues.
Formally nominated and seconded by my friends Councillor Guy Lambert and Councillor Unsa Chaudri, I became the 55th Mayor on 21 May 2019, the first to be inaugurated in the new Hounslow House at a ceremony attended by family, friends, councillors, bigwigs and representatives of the two charities I picked to support and raise awareness and funds for.
I chose a couple of worthy and local charities: Hounslow Seniors Trust and Our Barn Community.
I have supported the development of Our Barn Community since 2014 when I first encountered organisers and participants tending the allotments at Osterley Park and later supported their acquisition of a building there. At this and other locations, Our Barn deliver activities for people aged 16 and over particularly with autism type diagnoses mainly but not exclusively in sports and other team work which lead to skills for work and life.
As Mayor, I adopted Our Barn Community to help acquire additional equipment for their Buddy Bike project also located in Osterley Park. The aim was to raise money to at least purchase a Velo Plus bike that is built to carry a wheel chair and also a hand trike.
I was also due to reach the tragic age of sixty that year so decided to support another active local charity, the Hounslow Seniors Trust, to help enhance practical and intergenerational arts, sports, dance and cultural events from West to East. This charity, run by its borough resident participants, have been delivering the Older People’s Festival since the summer of 1993 and I wanted the Mayor’s Fund to support additional activities at other times of the year.
Having been around enough, familiar with local government and how it operates, I felt pretty comfortable with what I could and could not do.
Unsurprisingly, there were a handful of detractors. Having taken on the role, I had the odd colleague comrade attempting to compound that they always know better by trying to call the shots. The Mayor is meant to be separate from the leadership.
One or two other councillors who ought to have known or should have learned to be better would often childishly try it on at one or another of the thirteen the full Borough Council meetings chaired by the Mayor.
I was, following the July 2020 planning presentation meeting on the Tesco Homebase proposal, the subject of a formal complaint to the council’s Chief Executive by a Hanworth resident and their out of borough sidekick. A couple of white men were upset that I said that the Berkeley Homes brochure for the proposed developed appeared racist. I felt that the publication was aimed more at overseas investors and said so; its illustrations did not reflect the real diversity of the area (nor, it subsequently worked out, the developer’s true ambitions). Following a time wasting inquiry by an external investigator, I was exonerated.
Having kept to my word of avoiding a chauffer driven limo, I used the cab account on two or three occasions with the furthest journey to a civic service at St Pauls Cathedral with Councillor Mel Collins who tends to get rowdy when using the Central Line.
Other out of borough visits only extended as far as Ealing, Brent, Hammersmith and Fulham and Richmond Upon Thames as the guest of their Mayors. At each, and every other function, I availed myself of the Zipcars located at the council offices, my own 1980 Ford, public transport or on foot.
Due to circumstances, I and some of my counterparts had the unique honour of maintaining the Mayoralty for an additional year, offering the rare experience of insight, knowledge of process and the confidence to deliver this favoured position.
Unfortunately, however, the opportunity to extend was borne of the health disaster affecting so many of our compatriots as victims but also as saviours and supporters of our fellow citizens.
The pomp of office has been nothing compared to the sacrifices made by the borough’s key workers in health, emergency services, refuse collection, road maintenance, public transport, education, carers at home, carers in other settings, parks maintenance, public protection, child and family protection.
The innovation, effort and effectiveness of ordinary citizens, some already retired, others cruelly discarded, many just wanting to do something to help relieve the non health impacts on families, lonely neighbours, those homeless.
Already addressing hunger, poverty and other impacts of austerity, the humbling by food banks, impromptu open kitchens and the establishment of new charitable enterprises by (extra)ordinary people turned what could have otherwise been a disaster into an example of unrealised humanity. I was privileged to meet the good people of the Chiswick 7th Day Adventist Church Foodbank, Feltham Foodbank, St Pauls Hounslow West Foodbank and the Brooks of Life Foodbank as well as those stalwarts running and volunteering for the Open Kitchen on Jersey Parade.
I won’t be there to see it in the same way but I look forward to learning that the good and generous ladies of the Millan Women’s Group, the 55th Mayor’s first event, who meet at Isleworth Public Hall, will reconvene. Theirs was my first community event and unexpected but impromptu cash collection, the almost literal widow’s mite. The Singing for the Brain folk of St Mary’s Osterley will be back in fine voice. The volunteers and supporters of Chiswick Age Concern will be putting on another Christmas dinner for the 80 or so older members there in Oxford Road North. The borough’s firefighters may even deliver another one of their non stop runs to raise money for emergency service charities as they did last summer at Feltham Fire Station, organised by Isleworth’s then station officer, Lucy McLeod-Cook. All events that I had the honour to be invited to and attend.
During the Mayoralty I was honoured to celebrated my birthday on event days, with cake on each occasion. The day of my 60th in 2019, a Saturday and prior to a family celebration, coincided with an official engagement with the Osterley Lions who arranged the carers’ thank you at the Indian Gymkhana. Downhill from there for the 61st with residents and staff at Atfield House, St Johns Road.
I went there to Gift a Geranium, a way to help recognise the importance of care settings not just during Covid but throughout the year.
There is plenty more to follow up with that initiative so that we, as a community, can better appreciate carers wherever they deliver a service.
I was most chuffed to have spent time with schoolchildren in the borough. Highlights included, an in tune performance of Aladdin by the Drama Club at Oak Hill Academy Feltham was particularly impressive. There were great discussions on separate occasions with the School Councils of Grove Park Chiswick and Orchard Road Hounslow at theirs and Ivybridge Primary in the Mayor’s Parlour.
I helped honour the Feltham winners of the London In Bloom Competition as the guest of the Victoria Road School Gardening Club.
Thanking, again, the young artists and staff from both Kingsley Academy and Bolder Academy Schools for offering me choices for the Mayoral Christmas cards for both 2019 and 2020.
I helped support, along with the borough’s Royal British Legion branches and the Greater London Deputy Lieutenant, plan two years of commemorations at the ten local war memorials.
Time, tonight, prevents me from elaborating on the many Centenarian plus birthdays I attended, such as the celebration for 103 years old Vera Ward. Mrs Ward, who in the early 1980s, came out of nursing retirement first to work with refugee Vietnamese Boat people at Campion House and to later care for sufferers of AIDS at West Middlesex Hospital.
Or the Mayor’s numerous community events, connections with the borough attractions such as Kempton and Brentford steam museums, Chiswick House and Gardens (where I remain a trustee)the Musical Museum, Watermans Christmas Light Parade, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Paul Robeson, the classic car show at Hanworth where I chose the worthy 1960 Mini as winner, being very well looked after at the properly choreographed Kids in Care Awards, apple tree planting (a Feltham Beauty) at Gunnersbury, Rotary London Music Concert at the Royal Festival Hall, various Jack Petchey events for young People. Plenty, plenty, plenty more, I’ll produce a list another time.
I had a great comrade and colleague, Councillor for Bedfont Ward, Raghwinder Siddhu who as Deputy Mayor gave unstinting support, filling the voids and standing in when I could not attend events and a lovely Mayoress, Talia Louki.
I feel that I can also say that my residents of Osterley and Spring Grove Ward were not neglected. I maintained my casework and ward walks reporting the various environmental nonsense and trying to keep it at a low level. I still responded to residents’ requests for advice and assistance, attended the Ward Police Safer Neighbourhood Panel, Friends of Jersey Gardens, Friends of Thornbury Park, the OWGRA, Spring Grove and St Johns Residents associations meetings among others.
That’s about it. Happy to take questions and also catch up with more of you in person before too long.
I am still around and will continue to try to represent.
© Tony Louki 2021 – No reproduction without permission