South Tyneside First Citizens Hang Up their Chains
With the outgoing Mayor's time in office now drawn to a close, he looks back on an extraordinary two years serving the people of South Tyneside.
Councillor Norman Dick was appointed as Mayor of South Tyneside in May 2019, originally for the usual 12-month period, in which he enjoyed a jam-packed schedule of civic engagements and key events, representing the Borough, meeting communities and fundraising for the Mayor's Charity.
Suddenly any plans for a Mayoral handover in 2020 were put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic struck, the country went into complete lockdown and the Mayor and Mayoress - his good friend Jean Williamson - were among the 1.5 million people advised to 'shield' and avoid any face-to-face contact.
The pandemic marked a new direction in the way the Civic Office operated. With key community, celebration or commemorative events cancelled, postponed or delivered in other ways, the Mayor and Mayoress performed much of their duties safely from home.
The Mayor said: "The Mayoress and I have had an amazing time. We have also been in the unique position of seeing key annual events come full circle, with many taking a digital format the second time round. From one year to another, they couldn't have been more different. It's certainly been an extraordinary experience and a time we will both cherish forever."
Key highlights from their first few months in office included the annual Armed Forces Day celebrations and vibrant community-packed Summer Parade.
The Mayor and Mayoress also attended the dedication of the Tommy Silhouette in Haven Point as well as an event commemorating 'Operation Banner' - the British Armed Forces operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007. As an ex-Army soldier himself, and one of the first on the streets in 1969, the Mayor was honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of all the soldiers involved in the operation.
2019 also saw the Mayor and Mayoress meet His Royal Highness, The Duke of Gloucester, when he planted a tree at Jubilee Wood, opened an exhibition at Jarrow Hall and twinned the museum with its Italian counterpart.
In addition, they unveiled a special blue plaque honouring the late South Tyneside doctor Anne Seymour, greeted runners at the Great North Run finish line and hosted several charity events raising money for the Mayor's chosen charities - South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade and NAAFI Break South Tyneside.
During the 2019 Remembrance commemorations, the Mayor and Mayoress launched the annual Poppy Appeal and joined communities in poignant services and events across the Borough. They later officially switched on South Tyneside's Christmas lights in South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn town centres and opened the annual Christmas Fair.
The Mayor said: "We've had some really special moments. From royal visits and plaque unveilings to annual celebrations and commemorations attended by our communities.
"Although we haven't been able to meet people as we would have liked during 2020, we have really enjoyed maintaining a connection with our residents, supporting them to stay safe at home by delivering messages, sending personal letters and screening short films via the Council's website, YouTube and social media channels."
Despite a very turbulent 2020, there have been many highlights.
One of the Mayor and Mayoress's final face-to-face civic engagements, only weeks before lockdown, were as special guests onboard RFA Tidespring while off South Tyneside shores in March 2020. Being a military man himself, it was a great honour for the Mayor to tour the Navy vessel, meet the ship's company and celebrate Tidespring's recent affiliation with South Tyneside.
Subsequent tributes to the Borough's Armed Forces Community took on a new format with Anzac Day, VE Day and VJ Day, Merchant Navy Day, Remembrance and Armistice marked online.
The Mayor and Mayoress also launched the #Proud to Support campaign, showcasing the great work and community spirit of South Tyneside individuals and wrote a special 'thank you' letter to every single person and group who were nominated by the public for their incredible efforts though the pandemic.
They also led thanks to the Borough's amazing NHS staff, carers, key workers and volunteers, joined in celebrations for the NHS 72nd anniversary and led a special service for Srebrenica.
Over the Christmas period, the Mayor and Mayoress starred in the Borough's very first Virtual Christmas Light Switch on event - a light-hearted fun-packed short film bringing Christmas cheer to local communities in partnership with The Customs House.
More recent online events have included Holocaust Memorial Day, Workers' Memorial Day and Anzac Day, tributes to Hebburn Town FC on winning the FA Vase and congratulating community heroes at the very first virtual #LoveSouthTyneside Awards ceremony.
The South Tyneside Mayor's Office was also 'commended' in the National Association of Civic Officers' 'Civic Office of the Year' 2020 Awards, in recognition of how the Civic Party, supported by the officer team, stepped up to reach people in new ways during the pandemic.
The Mayor said: "It has been a real honour to represent and serve the Borough and showcase the many wonderful, kind-hearted people who go the extra mile to make this area great. This is no more evident than through our #ProudtoSupport campaign where we heard such inspiring stories of the incredible roles that people played as part of the coronavirus response effort.
"The Mayoress and I would like to thank the people of South Tyneside for their ongoing support throughout our time in office. I'd also like to thank the Mayoress for her dedication over these past two years. She's not only been by my side on civic duties, but a constant support and friend during a very challenging year for us all."
Watch an overview of Councillor Dick's time in office on the Council's YouTube page at https://youtu.be/DsuEZ8iZSRs