Morpeth Rotary Club
Before introducing Coun Nic Best as the guest speaker, President Andrew Hamnett gave a very warm welcome to two new members of the club.
Arif Shahab, representing the profession of electrical manufacturing, and Anja Goeing, in the category of university lecturer, have joined.
Coun Best spoke of his work as Mayor of Morpeth. The office usually lasts for a year and requires him to chair Morpeth Town Council as well as being the civic representative of the town.
He must attend all town council meetings, sub committees and working parties, including for the Christmas Lights display and town’s bloom entries.
The current institution dates from 2009 when Castle Morpeth District Council ceased to exist and Morpeth Town Council was able to follow through on the previous mayoral history and civic traditions.
The Morpeth Borough local authority started in 1835 when it replaced the medieval Morpeth Corporation. It continued until 1974 when Castle Morpeth District Council was set up.
The people of Morpeth accept the Mayor as being the embodiment and principal representative of the town.
Coun Best has been a town councillor for many years, in this role people always had something to complain about. When he became Mayor, there was a welcome change to where people say good and supportive things about the town.
As a single man, he welcomed the acceptance of the post of Mayoress by Joan Howard, who has brought a sense of gravity and dignity to the post. He is also supported by the Deputy Mayor and the Town Clerk.
He revived the post of Mayor’s Chaplain, which had not been used since 2008. It is not a town council appointment, but for his own pastoral support.
The authority has only one civic service a year. As Mayor, he does not have a lot of power, but he does have some influence. As the first ‘Green’ Mayor in the North East, he is happy to be seen walking around rather than being driven.
He has adopted the Samaritans as Mayor’s charity for the year, partly because the work of councillors is to listen to all, not just to those who can shout loudest, and they are not there to offer solutions to all.
He is supporting a bid to raise its profile and get another 40+ volunteers, as well as a number of fund-raising events.
One of the biggest is the Civic Ball on March 21, where he has decided to be piped in by a Northumbrian rather than a Scottish piper.
They had a Bollywood meal and entertainment in Autumn, there was the Mayor’s ceilidh in early February and an initiative to sell Morpeth Town parking discs featuring the Town Hall. He said they are collector’s items but they are not selling well so far.
There is a wealth of heritage in the town and every year a choice of anniversaries to celebrate, with some of the town council budget in support.
The Collingwood anniversary is already established as an annual event, Emily Wilding Davison was celebrated and is now part of the National Curriculum in schools and 2014/15 saw the anniversary of the start of World War I, with more war related anniversaries to come.
The Flower Festival and exhibition remembered all of the Morpeth soldiers who served, there was a short service at St George’s Church about the impact of war and the Remembrance Day Parade in 2014 was particularly memorable and solemn.
The Clock Tower Ringers put in an extra effort with a 233-stroke ring to remember all of the dead of Morpeth and they rang a muffled peal. There is a strong link between the ringers and the Mayor, with an annual ringing event for the mayor making.
The 300th anniversary of the completion of the Vanbrugh Town Hall was also in 2014. He used some of the Mayor’s annual budget of £1,100 to commission a piece of music from Alistair Anderson to celebrate.
The council and Morpeth Antiquarian Society have produced a new guide to the Town Hall and its treasures. It is a history of the town through the civic authority. At present, the Town Hall is the nearest they have to a town museum.
Art work of the Town Hall was used for the Mayoral Christmas card this year, but some staff complained it was not Christmassy enough. Staff views are always worth hearing as they are like the civic service and stay in post as mayors come and go.
The Mayor is invited into schools so that many young people recognise him in the street and say hello. Schools are taking part in bloom competitions and each have their own project. One is the scientific testing of composts and the results are being sent to DEFRA.
King Edward VI School was recently consulted by the town council on the new Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, which is expected to be in force until 2032.
He recently had an invite to launch the KEVI observatory, which had been built by the students who raised money for the telescope.
A wide range of local organisations invite him to visit and the town council works in partnership with a number of them, including the Morpeth Gathering Committee and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust.
In his role as the public face of the town, he is pleased to accept invitations from local families to special events and has helped to celebrate a couple of 100th birthdays and a 60th wedding anniversary.
The town council is keen to support the economy and local businesses. It uses local caterers and staff agencies. He was pleased to open five new shops, although was a little warm opening the lingerie shop.
The Food Festival has been going for three years and is also now a Morpeth tradition. Cafes, restaurants, local chefs and the farmers market all take part.
Duty required him to visit many stalls to have a photo taken and to sample the food and drink, which is partly the reason for the full stone in weight he has put on so far.
During questions, Coun Best was asked what happened in Morpeth before formal local government arrangements. He said that the town used to be run by the Guilds. Asked to explain about sub-committees, he said there were three main ones – Planning and Transport, Finance and General Purposes and Property and Assets. Each councillor is on one or two of them and they can express a preference.
He was thanked for his talk by Morpeth Rotarian Derek Robinson.