Chorley’s new mayor promises to be a ‘listener’ and promote female empowerment, as previous post-holder reflects on doing the job during the pandemic

The new mayor of Chorley says that she wants residents to think of her as someone they can chat to - and who will help them however she can.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 6:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 6:18 pm

Julia Berry, who was installed as the borough’s first citizen at a meeting of Chorley Council on Tuesday evening, told the Lancashire Post and Chorley Guardian that she also intends to use her year in office to advance the “empowerment of women and girls”.

Speaking after being sworn in to the ceremonial role, Cllr Berry - who represents the Coppull ward - said: “I’m easy to chat with and I want to be a listening mayor - listening and then taking action.

“I know I’ve got no serious powers, but will do whatever I can do."

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Chorley's mayor for 2022/23, Julia Berry, was first elected as a councillor for the borough 27 years ago

Cllr Berry last month brought a motion before the borough authority which saw the council commit to doing all it can to “build a borough free of misogyny and violence against women and girls”.

She told the Post and Guardian that it was an endeavour on which she now hoped to focus as mayor - including by taking a place on a council task group being established to hear the life experiences of women in the district. She also intends to help improve health and wellbeing across the borough.

The new mayor’s fundraising efforts over the next 12 months - a traditional part of the role - will benefit five local organisations: the borough’s Youth Zone, children’s hospice Derian House, Headway Central Lancs, Help the Homeless and Chorley Women’s Centre. She says she wants to help raise cash for specific projects undertaken by each of the groups.

Addressing councillors after taking up the office, Cllr Berry - who was first elected as a Labour member of the authority back in 1995 - said: “We’ve been reminded recently how precious life is and the importance of friends, family and community pulling together - I'd just like to say let’s just have a really good year.”

Cllr Berry was born and bred in Pendle, but moved to Chorley in the 1980s. She has served a total of 15 out of the last 27 years on Chorley Council and has been Lancashire county councillor for Chorley South since 2017.

Speaking to the Post and Guardian, she recalled being made “really welcome” when she first settled in Chorley and immediately feeling comfortable with getting involved in life in the borough.

“Let’s hope that’s the same for everybody today - whether it’s people moving here to work or coming here as refugees, we’ve got a lot to offer.”

Council leader Alistair Bradley said that the new mayor’s strength lay in her ability to talk to people from all backgrounds.

“In the mayoral role, you have to meet every kind of person in Chorley, have their interests at heart and take an interest in them - Julia does that now,” he said.

Welcoming Cllr Berry, Conservative opposition group leader Alan Cullens added that the most important thing about being the borough’s mayor was an ability to be yourself.

Cllr Tommy Jones was installed as deputy mayor for 2022/23, with Cllr Bradley saying that he and Cllr Berry would "complement" each other.

‘COVID MAYOR’ LEAVES OFFICE - AND THE COUNCIL

Steve Holgate, the man who served as Chorley mayor throughout the pandemic, said it was an “unusual” time to have been the borough’s first citizen.

Taking up the post in June 2020, just as the first lockdown began to slightly loosen, the then Cllr Holgate - who did not seek re-election at the local elections earlier this month - was confronted with a mayoral diary which was blank, when it would normally be bursting.

In spite of early attempts to make the best of a bad situation, the second national lockdown in November 2020 saw the community aspects of his role officially abandoned until the following May and a decision taken to extend his mayoral term by 12 months.

It is believed to be the first time since World War Two that a Chorley mayor has served for two years.

Steve chaired the early part of the meeting which saw him hand over the mayoral garb to Cllr Berry.

Council leader Alistair Bradley said that the departing mayor would forever be known as the “Covid mayor”, which, although “not a great name”, was testament to how he had helped steer the borough through the pandemic.

“The way that you dealt with it - the way that we all dealt with it - reflects well on this council and reflects well on Chorley. You have the right attitude and the right personality, when times are tough, to get people motivated - and usually to do something to make us all smile or chuckle,” Cllr Bradley said.

Conservative opposition group leader Alan Cullens paid tribute to the outgoing mayor for doing things “your way”.

In spite of the dearth of in-person events for much of his time in office, Steve still managed to rack up £19,000 for his chosen charities - including the Youth Zone and St. Catherine’s Hospice - which he said he considered to be a “sterling effort”.

He paid tribute to the civic team at the council, which had facilitated his efforts at a difficult time - and said that he was also proud to have played a role in tempting people back into the town centre as lockdown began to lift in summer 2020, with his weekly Tuesday walks around the market and shops.

“[It was] in a period of time when they were all really struggling with their confidence and I felt it was important that the first citizen goes out there and shows, by example, that it is safe to actually go to Chorley town centre and support your traders…in a safe manner and a responsible manner.

“That was one of the things I've taken the greatest joy out of, because people don't expect to see the mayor wandering around in chains in the town centre."

Steve stepped down as a Labour ward councillor for Coppull earlier this month, having sat for 17 out of the last 27 years on the borough authority.

The 67-year-old will remain as a county councillor for Chorley Central, where he says he will continue to push for Chorley to get “the best deal” out of the services provided by County Hall.

However, he told the Post and Guardian that his long-held ambition to “greenify” Chorley Council had largely been fulfilled, now that the authority had drawn up a climate change action plan and was aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“All the policies are in position now - we’ve got [a] champion for the environment, so I feel like now is the right time to step back. I’ve achieved many of the objectives I set out to do and now I can pass on the baton to someone a little younger, with a bit more energy.

“I’ll miss it terribly and I’ll miss the camaraderie - not just of Labour members, but all members. Everybody recognised why we were there - it’s not to fight and demonstrate each other as being incompetent or competent, but to have a joint vision for making Chorley the best and nicest place we can.

“And if we can keep focusing on that, then we’re in with a chance of success.”