After ten weeks in the job, Birmingham’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Carl Rice, reflects on his experiences as Birmingham’s first citizen….
In the first ten weeks I’ve joined countless celebrations across the city – from The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations to community events like Birmingham Pride and Big John’s Birmingham Mela. There have also been carnivals and sports events from the British Athletics Championships to sports days at schools and colleges. I’ve met with the Muslim Women’s Network UK and attended the launch of the Sikh Women’s Action Network, the Big Art Project and the Ageing Better Project. I’ve spoken at the 5th Jamaican Diaspora Biennial Conference, visited countless schools and even been to the World Congress of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians at the ICC.
I’ve also met the hilarious Adil Ray, aka Citizen Khan, with his family just before he received his honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University, and I ran into the great Ann Jones at Edgbaston Reservoir – arguably Birmingham’s greatest sportswoman, she won the Women’s Singles Championship and mixed Doubles Championship at Wimbledon in 1969.
I’ve also done something I hadn’t done for nearly 30 years. On 22 July, the Lady Mayoress and I gave blood. It took just 5 minutes and 28 seconds, so quick and so easy. I last gave blood in 1987 the year I was elected to Birmingham City Council. I stopped because I thought it would take up too much time in an already busy schedule. How wrong I was. Every 12 – 16 weeks from now on. I encourage you all to do likewise.
Sadly, it has also been a time for vigils, memorials and commemorations – the 100th anniversary of the Somme, a vigil in memory of Jo Cox, the vigil in memory of those killed in Sousse last year, a silence for the Nice victims this year and the 21st Srebenica Memorial Event. To quote Maya Angelou – “Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world but has not solved one yet.”
That said, I wish every councillor in Birmingham could be Lord Mayor for a month. In just four weeks of visits and events you get to see and appreciate the talent, expertise and commitment to improving our city. I’ve lost count of the amount of fundraising events I’ve already attended. And that’s on top of the £25k raised with the Birmingham Post and Mail to support the families of the men who were killed at the recycling plant tragedy in Nechells.
It has struck me that large cities wouldn’t function so well if it wasn’t for the legion of volunteers who give their time regularly and without complaint. Nor that the majority of the volunteers that I’ve met have been women. So I’m pleased that I chose the voluntary sector and women’s issues as my key themes for the year.
The most moving event so far was my visit to Albert in France for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at the Thiepval Memorial. 10,000 people were in attendance at this solemn and moving service. The bloodiest battle in British military history which began on 1st July 1916 and lasted for four months until 18th November. We remembered those on all sides with respect, honour and dignity. It is simply staggering that on the opening day of the battle alone the British Fourth Army took 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed. At the roll call of the 8th and 6th Royal Warwickshire Battalion on 2nd July 1916 only 15 out of 700 men answered. Over one million casualties in the 141 days of the battle.
I will never forget these terrible losses and it was a humbling experience to read the Exhortation after the Last Post on Sunday 4th July at the Menin Gate in Ypres as part of the commemorations. This was the most moving experience of a memorable visit to the 1st World War battlefield of France and Belgium.
It was also a privilege to meet the Mayor of Albert Stephane Damilly and to come to understand the special relationship Birmingham has with Albert after Birmingham helped to rebuild their city in the Somme’s aftermath. Albert is twinned with the UK town of Ulverston in Cumbria and also the German towns of Aldenhoven and Niesky. Crucially Albert was also adopted by Birmingham in 1920.
Today Albert still has a ‘Rue de Birmingham’- which I visited – and the alm houses paid for by the citizens of Birmingham still exist. In 1924 when the then Lord Mayor of Albert visited Birmingham to give our Lord Mayor the Legion d’Honneur in recognition of our support he said: “Friendship borne out of suffering is imperishable.” It certainly felt like that as we joined together in remembrance.