The Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Councillor Merlita Bryan is a formidable woman of distinction. In this exclusive interview with Norma Gregory, the Lord Mayor shares her history, views and vision for Nottingham city.
Merlita Bryan is one of many success stories in the history of Nottingham. Her success extends beyond being a role model for women locally, nationally and internationally but also as a leader through her effort and spirit to improve the city and the lives of the citizens of Nottingham. The role of Lord Mayor of Nottingham has been in existence since 1284 when the mayoral ceremonial role is recorded to have started with Roger de Crophill. Elevation of Merlita Bryan into this position marks another historical mileage both to the role and to the city. Norma Gregory visited the Lord Mayor in her chambers at the Nottingham Council House, to find out how the role has impacted on her life. She also shares what she hopes to achieve over the next twelve months and her priorities and vision for the development of the city.
As the first black female Lord Mayor of Nottingham, how has your background influenced your life journey and current public office as first citizen, Lord Mayor of Nottingham?
I was born in St Thomas Jamaica, which I am very, very proud of and came to England in 1962 to join my parents. My dad came here first to join his sister, then my mum followed. I came here when I was very young, went to school, had various jobs, and raised my children. However, I thought there was more to life than what I was doing. From my trade union background, I was encouraged to become a councillor and realised that this was an opportunity to try and do something for my community where I live. The rest is history!
When and how did you become the Lord Mayor of Nottingham?
I was elected as Lord Mayor of Nottingham in March 2013 and the full induction was completed 20th May 2013. Before this post, I was Sheriff of Nottingham. The election process is carried out annually from within the Council. Nominations are made, which requires a second recommendation. It is then put to a vote by council members and then the mayor is elected.
What does the role of Lord Mayor mean to you?
For me and my family, it is a big achievement. I would never ever have thought for one moment that I would be the Lord Mayor of Nottingham.
How has the community responded to the first black woman Mayor of Nottingham?
The warm embrace I have experienced from the whole community has been phenomenal. I have had women say how uplifted they feel in the community. In particular, the African Caribbean community have been fantastic and very supportive.
Lady Mayoress & Lord Mayor
women say how uplifted they feel in the community. In particular, the African Caribbean community have been fantastic and very supportive.
How do you think the role of Lord Mayor will help and improve the Nottingham community?
The Lord Mayor is the first citizen of Nottingham and is a civic role to help promote Nottingham. The role is to host visitors to the city, like the royal family and other dignitaries and Heads of State. Within the community, the Lord Mayor gets invited to open new businesses, schools or charity events and to deliver speeches. It is a big thing for the city to have a Lord Mayor; to represent and speak on behalf of the city. If individuals are lucky enough to get into a responsible role, it is not just for you – you should do it to embrace or enhance somebody else.
How can business be improved in the city?
For businesses to improve we need to talk collectively and generate action. We need to speak to employers and community organisations, and work with the council to try to improve things. I know we are in recession at the moment but I do know things will get better in Nottingham. We need to mobilize our youngsters to help themselves and to point them in the right direction. It is very hard out there, we have been teenagers ourselves. Back in the day, it was not as hard as it is now - we thought it was hard back then. We have to try to work with our youngsters to inspire then and show them a career direction they could take. We need to create jobs in Nottingham, to try to get big businesses into Nottingham and to encourage employers to employ more people.
The council is doing a lot of apprentice schemes. Nowadays every organisation wants somebody who is qualified but you can’t get qualified unless you have a chance. Not everybody will leave school with a bachelors degree. It doesn’t mean that you are not intelligent and you can’t learn. We are missing a section of society who are going to be left behind all the time. We need to look at encouraging employers to take people on straight from school. We need to bring back careers advisers into schools.
What are your priorities as Lord Mayor of Nottingham?
Young people. I am very passionate about the role young people will play in the future. Whenever I look at a young person, I see tomorrow’s Lord Mayor, I see tomorrow’s Member of Parliament or the next Prime Minister. I will work with anybody that helps to get our young people on track for tomorrow’s world. For me, if being the Lord Mayor of Nottingham makes young people think, “I can achieve something, I can do that,” to me that’s what it’s all about. If the role helps to make youngsters feel they are not trapped, but they can aspire and go for gold and do something, then that is what my work as mayor is for. Giving somebody else aspiration in the community, that’s what it’s all about, whether it be a man, woman, black of white. It is the belief that somebody from an ordinary, working background, like me, can achieve. That is what is how I hope the role will help people.
Describe a typical day as Lord Mayor of Nottingham.
It varies. In one day I might have two, three or four civic engagements. I might have council meetings, an interview with press, a visit, or a citizenship ceremony to welcome new British citizens to Nottingham.
Last year the Black Mens’ Achievement Award 2012, which you organized here at the Council House, was very well received in the community. Will there be a repeat of this event in the future?
We are in the stage of planning this year’s event to be held September 2013. We have had so much interest in it. It was started to give credibility to people in Nottingham. There are many BME individuals doing great work in the city and not shouting about what they are doing to improve the city. The black-tie awards ceremony will probably have a networking session at the end to create links between individuals and organisations or for people to find out about a career or service that they might want to get into now or in the future.
As Chair of the Community Partnership Forum (CPF) what does it hope to achieve?
When we had disturbances across many cities two years ago, I thought to myself we have got a lot of organisations in Nottingham doing great work but not everybody knew who was doing what. So I thought why don’t we do something to get organisations together, working under one umbrella. I know people can say that this has been done before but what is gone is gone. The CPF is a collective of individuals and organisations that people know and trust. I am very surprised to how it has been developing.
Tell me about your plans for a summer holiday programme for children in Nottingham.
For the summer, I am trying to organize trips to Sherwood Forest and Skegness to have a nice day out as not all Nottingham city children might not have had the chance to visit places of interest. Last year, we have a picnic in the park. We are trying to organize a cultural day at the end of the summer as well.
How can the public help you in your duties over the year as Lord Mayor?
If organisations want help promoting what they are doing in the community, I am very happy to come along to support the event. Get in touch with the Civic Office through the NCC website and summarize the event and how I could support the organisation or event. Nottingham is a beautiful city and if we want to promote the city we need to work together because this is where we are and we are not going to go anywhere else. Along with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Ian Malcolm (Clifton Ward) we will try to support organisations and individuals that promote Nottingham.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS