Farewell to Veronica after 37 years

A popular councillor and former Mayor of Preston has announced her retirement ahead of this year's elections, after 37 years serving the city. Sarah Fielden speaks to Veronica Afrin about her decision to step down, and her work on Preston Council since joining in 1979.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 25th April 2016, 7:21 am
Updated Monday, 25th April 2016, 9:23 am
Veronica Afrin with Mayoral Officer Jim Rowley as they put on the Mayoral Chain, when Coun Afrin became mayor
Veronica Afrin with Mayoral Officer Jim Rowley as they put on the Mayoral Chain, when Coun Afrin became mayor

“I thought I would just do it for four years,” admits Veronica Afrin, reflecting on almost four decades service on Preston Council.

The 79-year-old former mayor has worked with six council leaders and six chief executives, and has been part of the team behind charities that are still thriving.

“I’ve really enjoyed all of it,” she says, fondly. “I’ll still be watching and being involved, hopefully, and it’s just making room for younger people.”

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Coun Veronica Afrin while she was Mayor of Preston, with the Commonwealth flag at the Commonwealth Day celebrations in the Town Hall.

Despite serving on the council for 37 years, Coun Afrin reveals she never intended to become a politician.

But, working as a health visitor and also taking a course in social policy, she was “incensed” by the inequality she discovered, and decided to join a party.

“My family has always been very socialist, particularly my mother,” she says.

“I was reading a Sunday paper that had a picture of St Annes and it said ‘the jewel in the Tory crown’.

Coun Veronica Afrin while she was Mayor of Preston, with Veronica of Thingumajig Theatre

“I was visiting girls at the back of there, in awful conditions.

“I was going to those girls and weeping for them because they had no relatives, without support. I was moaning about it at the university, and one of the tutors said, ‘Don’t moan, do something about it’.

“He said, ‘Join a party’, which is what I did.

“It was never my ambition to be a councillor. I thought I would just do it for four years.”

Coun Veronica Afrin while she was Mayor of Preston, with the Commonwealth flag at the Commonwealth Day celebrations in the Town Hall.

But the mother-of-two and grandmother-of-three embraced a life of local politics, and says: “I’ve just always loved it.

“You get the opportunity to really make a difference.”

Coun Afrin was part of the team who put the bid together for Preston to become a city, and has also chaired various committees while on the council.

During the 1980s, she chaired the Anti-Poverty Forum - a national body set up to look at ways of combatting poverty.

Coun Veronica Afrin while she was Mayor of Preston, with Veronica of Thingumajig Theatre

She also had key responsibilities within the council at that time, and said: “I had a massive portfolio, half the council - leisure, regeneration, parks, arts, it included almost everything.”

As part of her work at the time she, as part of a team, was able to secure European funding for projects, and Coun Afrin visited Europe on several occasions.

She says: “I’ve been to Europe in the last couple of years and I really hope this council will apply to be City of Culture in the next few years.

“There’s nothing they do that we haven’t already done.

“We’ve got the background for it, we’ve got the Guild, we’re a very big arts centre.”

Coun Afrin was also part of a team responsible for improving Deepdale, and also upgrading Avenham.

She remembers: “I’ve been involved in sports and leisure, I don’t even know how long.

“I’m very proud of the variety and the level of sports that we have.
“We have the Sports Forum with 100 clubs engaged, most of them run by volunteers.

“And I was here when we built West View.” 
Following funding from the government, Coun Afrin chaired an organisation called Urban Exchange, from its inception to its demise.

She recalls: “That actually came off the back of a scheme set up by a midwife, myself and a district nurse, and we set it up, it was called Talk Talk.

“It was a drop-in centre for young people, and it was down an alleyway in the town centre.

“Urban Exchange grew out of that.

“That did fantastic work, it was a drop-in, it did everything from homelessness, contraception, legal advice, counselling, it did all of that for young people, but it closed, the funding went.”
Coun Afrin insists that all the work she has done has been alongside other people, and says: “We set up lots of things in Preston.

“One of them was Sahara.

“And we set up a Preston community arts body that encouraged arts, and helped them to get funding.”

Apart from serving on the council, Coun Afrin was on the health authority for three terms, and was on the team behind setting up Babybeat.

She says: “That started out just knitting clothing for babies with a consultant obstetrician, and that’s gone from strength to strength.

“It was easy to do it in those days.”

Coun Afrin was also a founding member of both St Catherine’s Hospice and Heartbeat, and is also the first female vestryman at Preston Minster.

She is Preston Council’s cabinet member for leisure and culture, says: “One of the things I’m proudest of is we’ve got a really good cultural offer in Preston.

“I was involved in handing over the Guild Hall, that was an iconic moment and I’m still involved with it and so pleased with how it’s going.

“I’ve been lucky enough to see the regeneration of Preston, which I think is looking superb.

“There’s a way to go, but I’m pleased to be part of that.

“People in Preston, when they are asked, always have nice things to say.

“Most people who live here are happy to live here.

“Now, as I’m leaving, we have this big project for the Harris Museum.

“But I’ve got to go some time, there will always be something going on.”

Coun Afrin has also served as an independent member on the Racial Equality Council for about 40 years.

She says: “I’m very proud of the way people have worked together to ensure good relationships between different communities.

“One of the things that will be one of my proudest moments is the Guild Community Procession, when all the religions march in one procession.

“I think that’s unique, I don’t believe that’s ever happened anywhere. I think that’s a great achievement for this city.”

Coun Afrin was mayor in 2013-14, and deputy Guild Mayor.

She says: “I loved being mayor, it was a great year, and I was deputy Guild Mayor.

“As a family it was lovely. One of the benefits of it that you would never expect was that we spent a lot of time together.”

Coun Afrin had been a close friend of Sir Tom Finney, and she remembers: “His funeral was such an honour to be mayor and welcome all those people to Preston.

“Although it was sad, it was also an absolutely glorious occasion.”

Coun Afrin, who grew up in Preston and now lives at West Cliff, described her decision to stand down from the council as “all down to age”.

She says: “I’m proud of what this council does, I’m proud of all the people who sit on it, because I think we make some brilliant decisions between us.

“We’ve got great officers, fewer of them, but still producing what we want them to produce.

“But I want to do other things in my life.

“I just want to relax.

“One of the things I’m looking forward to is more time to spend with friends, and to enjoy more holidays abroad.”