Elders, Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Fellow Councillors, Council staff and all the distinguished guests, family and friends, may I begin by thanking you Cllr Leslie Alexander, now Deputy Lord Mayor, not only for serving Bristol well in your year, but more personally for allowing me to join you and shadow you on a number of engagements, and for giving me some handy tips. I look forward to continuing to work together here and there over the year.
But what is a Lord Mayor? My earliest memory of Lord Mayor can be seen in this photo. I can’t remember who the Lord Mayor was at the time but I was no more than 4 when they visited my nursery school. We made the three cornered hats and large golden paper chains donned round our necks. We looked more like like a motley crew of Bristol pirates, and I guess that’s what most people think of when they think of the Lord Mayor, no not pirates but the chain the robe and possibly the triangle hat with black feathers. Cllr Alexander did mention that school children do ask where’s your hook?!
In fact being Lord Mayor is of course a huge privilege and responsibility – it’s a role of representing the city, of being Bristol’s ‘first citizen’ for a year. I’d like to thank some of the people who got me here – my parents Anne Cormack nee Campbell and my father Melbourne Hezekiah Lake. And the teachers who helped me – those at the nursery, and those who followed at Easton Road Primary Mr Hills and Mrs Willgress and Miss Pinner. Education plays such an important part in helping us reach for the future – I was lucky enough to be exposed to varied ideas, experiences and cultures which enabled me and my classmates (one of which is my Lady Mayoress Bianca Durrant) to travel in our imaginations. I recall our head teacher playing a plethora of classical music at most assemblies – Fanfare for the Common Man comes to mind, I enjoyed country dancing, and one teacher, Mr Hills – a man with a beard, long brown hair brown, brown cords, plaid shirt and sandals with socks, played the guitar and sang us Caribbean songs like ‘tingo layo’ whilst playing the guitar, and read us Anancy stories. My secondary school of which I had made up my mind to attend from the age of 5, from the school currently known as Colston Girls I wish in particular to thank and give credit to Mrs Hook and Mr Butcher.
I grew up in Easton and enjoyed a great community spirit – from sharing delicious food with our next door neighbours, the Kaliks, at Eid, to enjoying the reggae played by Mr Jimmy at all hours across the road on a Saturday night – this was in a pre noise pollution monitoring or ASBOs era; Mrs Clark and her sister two dear pensioners spoiling us with treats at Christmas, the comforting sound of Bristolian being spoken loudly as long standing residents discussed business and gossiped back and forth and in and out each other’s houses. Bill Ivor and Bills elderly mum at the end of the street who adored my sister and I and who actually unofficially adopted us as her Granchildren just before she died, and we being very young and not knowing what that meant used to address her by saying ‘Hello adopted gran’… Joan an eccentric woman who supported our family endlessly; early days with the Selassie family just on the corner who remain close family friends; the Weetons next door with the immaculate hedge, Dennis with his pond of carp; and last but by no means least Mr and Mrs Smith, in fact my Lady mayoress’ grandparents, who provided us every summer without fail a share of their allotment harvest of plums and beans and various other produce. That was my street, thats where I grew up and that’s where I learnt. I cant say that I would have made it here today if I hadn’t of grown up there.
And I hope besides some of the challenges my own family have experienced that my own children may reflect in as a positive way on their childhoods. Thank you to my three children Ashante Romany and Fitzroi who try to support me and I am very proud of you all but must tell you that you must do more around the house to quite literally pick up the pieces this year! I notice we had a Fitzroi in – 1958 Fitzroy George William Chamberlain – but not yet an Ashante or Romany at least not in name but who knows maybe in tribe.
Looking back on our history in this city and the one of Mayor and later Lord Mayor it stretches back 800 years and is now into 802 years. The first Lord Mayor was in 1216 a Mr Roger Cordewaner – I didn’t want to ask any one how to pronounce that because didnt want to be corrected as its so much fun to say! I hope my year wont be full of getting peoples names wrong given that I am set to meet hundreds if not thousands of people.
The first woman was elected as Lord Mayor in 1963 Deputy Mayor Cllr Alexander was actually the 10th ever woman to be Lord Mayor given that one woman served twice, so that makes me the 11th female Lord Mayor in the 800 year old legacy. The others were and I list to honour them:
1963 Florence Mills Brown
1968 Mercia Evelyn Castle OBE, JP
1971 Mrs Helen Bloom
1986 Mrs Joan Jones
1989 Mrs Kathleen Minnie Mountstephen
1994 Mrs Claire Margaret Warren
1995 Mrs Joan Barbara McLaren (dd 08.01.10)
1996 Mrs Joan Barbara McLaren
2001 Brenda Patricia Hugill
2015 Clare Campion-Smith
I hope tradition remains and allows for our names to be etched into stone amidst but in no way over shadowed by all those men’s names. I am a change on the wall a name on a brick but never just another brick in the wall. I, probably a bit like our New Duchess of Sussex if I may for a second compare myself to a royal princess, probably have very little in common with our early forerunners and for obvious reasons none of them that I can unearth were dancers! I am bringing some changes to the position – I am different from my predecessors – I am a dancer. For the last 10 years been the dance leader for the most incredible group The Malcolm X Elders Forum who meet weekly as a social club, providing activities and a hot lunch giving people a weekly dose of engagement and something to get out of the house for. They have not just provided me with work and support when I have needed it but they are my friends. My own father was a proud African man born in Jamaica and sadly passed away just hours after my 10th birthday. Engaging with the club also gave me an opportunity to re engage and learn about my roots and culture and is a testament to the power of intergenerational activity – something I look forward to developing this year.
It is of course an honour for my elders and my community at large me being first citizen of bristol in the same year as we celebrate 50 years of the St Pauls Carnival and 70 years since Windrush docked. It is testament to the distance travelled. So today I stand here quite possibly as my ancestors wildest dreams. Well unless thats my ancestors on my mothers side: Clarence Church Campbell and Pearl Bailey, aka Big Bill Campbell and Peggy Bailey sweetest voice of the West.
My grandfather was Scots Canadian. He had served in the airforce. And he is credited with pioneering country and western music in the UK.
He along with his rocky mountaineers also popularised the phrase ‘Mighty Fine’. But he and my maternal grand mother were also racists. This is an uncomfortable truth and a painful one when as a child the photo that my mother sent to her mother of my sister and I was opened then returned because of the colour of my skin and because the colours of my our skins did not match. In fact my mother was constantly confronted with questions and phrases such as your kids really confuse my kids….
History is complicated and full of paradoxes, standing here as I do as a proud Bristolian Scots woman of African and Caribbean heritage. I have explored my African roots visiting Ghana several times and more recently Benin and Togo – I do hope there might be an opportunity to travel in my year I look forward to visiting Bordeaux one of Bristol’s oldest twins or maybe somewhere a little warmer or more likely colder especially as travel in office is to be self funded these days and rightly so perhaps… so looking for my roots, maybe? No. Yes! Scotland it is! Tracking down and calling in or calling on or heaven forbid calling out for some reason the Dukes of Argyle. Chiefs, clans and castles all sounds very romantic and a far cry from diamond socks with jeans tucked in a la Bristol circa 1991. It’s a long way to travel Scotland mind, I wonder if you can do it on one charge in a Tesla that’s a top of the range electric car?.. If not then I am minded of that wise thing a man once said I think on an advert: ‘I ain’t looking forward to the journey home neither!’
I’m keen to explore the international relations Bristol enjoys – we’re twinned with a number of places. I’ve been informed by officers in the twining department the necessity of economic benefit when considering new partnerships and well preferably tangible links…. so I’m not yet sure what might be in it for Bristol as such or what tangible links we might have with Scotland, well apart from at least half of the public gallery is more than likely part Scottish – Campbell in fact is a surname found more widely in Jamaica than Scotland itself and we of course share the saltire style flags.
Thinking of heraldry I am so proud of my City, the city where I was born, and I think it is truly something special that we have a unicorn in our symbol – a unicorn, a serpant and the scales… I do intend to incorporate this into a hairdo at some point or an outfit somehow by the way both I and the office of Lord Mayor are open for sponsorship with Cllr Stevens already backing a few hairdos – i’m not sure if thats a problem or do I set the rules now as first citizen? The role doesn’t come with a manual just a load of anecdotes, conventions and very little budget! Clive which one next? Serpent unicorn or scales? I’m not sure yet how to show justice we will have to come back to that one, so let’s go for a medusa inspired style and I will try to turn anyone to stone who doesn’t obey the traffic lights. You see my other role is to Chair Full Council, and councillors must limit their speeches to 3 mins although today it’s 2 mins…
The heraldry or the symbols of Bristol which date to 1569. The significance of these various items is recorded in the City Audit Books of this time:- and I quote, the Unicorns will only do homage to men of virtue; (shrugs) the arms in the crest signify that good government depends on wisdom (the serpent) and justice (the scales) and that these are divine gifts from above.
Many are called but few are chosen – I realise that I have been chosen and whist this may for some be timely I would suggest that its actually later than we think so in the song words of Gaetano Alberto “Guy” Lombardo and his Royal Canadians we had better enjoy ourselves.
Joking aside, part of the role is a diplomatic duty and is this is also something I look forward to – welcoming various delegates to Bristol and continuing to some of our international partnerships with places such as Bordeaux and start to build new ones that perhaps resonate with some of our historic ties. As I alluded to – twining relies heavily on vested communities taking an active role in pulling things together so I have every faith that many of the people here today will support the over due call to link and one day twin cities in Bristol with Jamaica.
Closer to home I will enjoy connecting across Bristol with various communities learning new things and seeing new places – I will also span the breadth of the city and will be connecting in a meaningful way organically and inclusively across all walks of society – from Filwood community centre, care homes, schools, to Merchants Hall and beyond – I believe that I can be a bridge and a major asset to the city. I look forward to working with new groups in new ways, including via one of my passions – dance. It is my intention to invite dance artists and guests to lead a few moves in future full council meetings – so with respect I think its only right that I address and recognise perhaps the most experienced Lord Mayor in our midst, none other than former LM Cllr Peter Abrahams who has served three times – Cllr Abrahams I have one question for you – how is your cha cha cha?! I know Cllr Hance is into flamenco and going back to my roots i’m imagining a mosh pit of politicians and I’m scouring the crowd not looking for any ravers but rather …. a line dancer…. come on, get on board for Strictly come dancing Full Council, we could try and literally sweat our assets and encourage more views on webcast, a text donation line maybe…. We must find times to have fun and I will be sure to have a fun year. I honestly believe that Bristol can be a beacon and lead the way on how we can co exist together and be part of the collective narrative. So you have heard a little more about me your Lord Mayor for the year, I can’t promise to take the title from my maternal grandmother as the sweetest voice of the West when chairing full council but I pledge to be firm and fair. I welcome the public gallery of citizens: posing questions, making statements, seeking clarity, providing insights and holding this council to account. But I do believe in order and progress. Let’s channel together the notion of good governance through our founding principles of wisdom and justice, and then maybe for me it would indeed be mighty fine if we may think of our cousin island of Jamaica: firstly, as a cousin, and secondly, in doing so be inspired by and heed their motto that out of many we can be one Bristol, then and only then the spirit of the unicorn may be bestowed upon us and then I know the true magic will happen.