What is it like to be Mayor of Suffolk’s biggest town?
PUBLISHED: 20:00 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:57 15 May 2019
Jane Riley is leaving the Ipswich post. She talks to our reporter about her year as first citizen, during which she has found out so much more about her home town.
Jane Riley, has been the Mayor of Ipswich for a year - since May 2018.
Now, at the end of her term of office and about to relinquish her regalia, the borough councillor talks about the 12 months that have seen her visit more Ipswich places and meet more Ipswich people than she ever thought possible.
We meet at Ipswich Town Hall, which has become a sort of home-from-home for Jane and her husband and Mayor's consort, Adam Rae. She has entertained and been entertained. She has opened, unveiled, given addresses and dressed in regalia innumerable times.
I can't help noticing that Jane has a cotton loop sewn on to each shoulder of her jacket. "All my jackets have those," she laughs. They keep the mayoral chain in place.
The role of Mayor is associated with town, boroughs and city councils. The Mayor plays no political part in council debates but may be called upon to give a casting vote in the event of a tie. In which case, the Mayor traditionally defers to the status quo
Although with its big Labour majority it is no surprise when Jane reveals: "I haven't once had to use my casting vote."
We are in the Town Hall tea rooms, less than a week before her term of office ends on May 15. She has to shoot off by midday because she has an engagement at Clifford Road school.
"I've tried to visit as many Ipswich primary schools as possible. Roger Fern (one of her predecessors as Mayor) managed to do them all."
One of the reasons Jane wants to talk about her time as Mayor is to demystify the role. Although, of course she attends very official occasions, she has also been happy to go along to tea parties, meet centenarians, and join children at school events.
"It is great to be invited along to all sorts of occasions. Sometimes, they think they can't invite the Mayor to a school fete - but they really can."
"A town is its people. Over the year I have got to know all the people and organisations that make the town work - high sheriffs, judges, charities..." Jane warms to her theme. At the Chapman Centre, which helps homeless people, there's a chap called Rob who goes out every morning to find the street sleepers and invite them to breakfast."
There are, says Jane, a lot of people like Rob who do so much to make Ipswich a town to be proud of.
A pet project of hers - as yet unrealised - is to create an Ipswich Day, along the lines of Suffolk Day but specifically for the town. She is still working on that one, she says with a determined glint in her eye.
How many engagements has Jane had in her year of office? "I don't know, exactly... more than one a day, on average, I think."
"I did wonder if people are really interested in mayors but so many people have wanted selfies with me..."
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And on the subject of smart phones, Jane enjoys wearing the Mayor's robes but feels they could benefit from the addition of a mobile phone pocket on the inside.
It was, however, the robes that gave Jane one of her funniest moments. "The first time I had to wear the robes was at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, in Bury St Edmunds and someone said, 'You're sitting very still'. It was because I couldn't move my arms − I was sitting on the (capacious) sleeves!"
There are, of course, people who have made Jane's term of office run both smoothly and enjoyably. Her husband Adam, she says has been tremendous and, moreover, now has three suits (one a DJ) whereas before, he had none. Then there is the Town Sergeant, Andrew Beal - chauffeur, launderer, sewer on of shoulder loops and a reservoir of knowledge about protocol and town institutions − and Civic Secretary Christine Christensen who runs the Mayor's diary and much more.
Each Mayor of Ipswich selects a charity to support and Jane, a solicitor at Kerseys, in Ipswich, chose the Suffolk Law Centre, which offers half-an-hour's free legal advice on matters including family, employment, immigration, housing, wills, community care and dispute resolution from legally qualified professional volunteers.
It is a vital community resource that could do so much more if it were better funded. Jane thinks her Mayor's charity has raised in the region of £8,000 for the law centre.
Mayor's Moments 2018-19:
- A blindfold walk with guide dog users. "I found it so disorientating. I had a white stick and I thought I was going in a straight line through town... but I was actually going into a shop."
- Going aboard the HMS Trumpeter, a naval training ship, based in Ipswich. "They've got the latest technology."
- Presenting the Prince's Trust Awards. "The charity does such great work with young people from care, who are refugees, who suffer with anxiety and depression − such a confidence boost."
- Opening the British Heart Foundation shop, in Ipswich.
-Visiting the Orwell Yacht Club (near Bourne Bridge) which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018.
- Seeing the Little Ships of Dunkirk at Ipswich.
- Handing out tea bags at Ipswich railway station on "Brew Monday", with The Samaritans. (a counter to Blue Monday)
- Meeting people that have celebrated their 100th birthdays. "One had been teacher at Sprites primary school and she still teaches English as a foreign language - and she gets her students to do bell ringing."
- Marking the centenary of the end of the First World War: the installation of doves at Ipswich School; a commemoration at Ipswich's twin town of Arras in northern France; Remembrance Day in Ipswich.
- Burying two time capsules - one under the Cornhill, another at The Hold (at Suffolk Records Office) assembled by Clifford Road and Cliff Lane primary schools. "They put in a plastic straw, in the hope that when the capsule is dug up in 100 years, no one will know what is."
Jan Parry is the new Mayor of Ipswich and Jane Riley becomes Deputy Mayor 2019-20