Meet South Ribble's colourful - and virtual - new mayor

South Ribble’s new mayor says her main duty will be to “keep spirits up” in the borough during the ongoing pandemic.

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 10:29 am
Updated Thursday, 1st October 2020, 10:31 am

Jane Bell – Labour councillor for the Seven Stars ward in Leyland – will hold the mantle for over 18 months, rather than the usual year, after the ceremonial timetable was upended by coronavirus. The mayoral installation was due to take place back in May.

At least part of Cllr Bell’s term is likely to be dictated by Covid considerations and, in proposing her for the role, Cllr Sue Jones revealed that her friend was set to spend the coming months as a “virtual mayor”.

“I think it’s fair to say that even without the Covid-19 epidemic, Jane’s time in office was not going to be conventional,” she said.

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Cllr Jane Bell is the new mayor of South Ribble - with an extended term of office

Bedecked in a rainbow-coloured kaftan and sporting her trademark brightly-coloured hair – pink, on this occasion – Cllr Bell told a hybrid meeting of South Ribble Borough Council that she was a “people person” who had plenty of high-tech ideas about how to make the role her own even within the constraints of coronavirus.

“The last six months have been difficult, to say the least, and the next six don’t look much better.

“Having lived and worked in the community for over 40 years, I know just how much community groups contribute – not just in times of crisis – and I wanted to thank them for that hard work.

“Thanks also to my family who have no idea just how much they are going to be involved in the next 18 months,” Cllr Bell beamed.

She announced that the three charities she would be supporting in her fundraising efforts all offered “safe havens” of one kind or another – St. Catherine’s Hospice, Clare House women’s refuge and SLEAP, a Leyland-based organisation providing support and accommodation for young people, and one for which Cllr Bell has opened up her own home to those in need of a roof.

A mum-of-five, she has been heavily involved in community work at home and abroad, including spells working with orphans in Uganda. However, her fun-loving style in the council chamber is never far from the surface and members were amused to learn that she was once the understudy for a Womble in a nationwide tour of the 1970s kids’ favourites – even though she was the manager of the stage show at the time.

Cllr Bell’s daughter Emma will be her mayoress through until May 2022.

Outgoing mayor Harold Hancock and his mayoress wife Marion, were thanked by council leader Paul Foster for being “thoroughly hard-working and wonderful ambassadors for the borough”.

“You have done yourselves, your family and the council an absolute credit,” Cllr Foster said.

Cllr Hancock – whose term effectively came to a halt with the imposition of the nationwide lockdown in March – said it had been “a funny old year, but a very enjoyable one”.

“It has been a privilege, honour and delight to serve our borough,” he added.

Veteran Liberal Democrat councillor David Howarth, who has represented Penwortham on the authority for 25 years, was installed as deputy mayor.