This is why Preston's new mayor has become big news thousands of miles away in India

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The annual installation of a new mayor in Preston rarely makes headlines beyond the city itself.

The ceremonial role passes from one long-serving councillor to the next with a fanfare that is usually largely confined to the town hall chamber.

This year, however, Yakub Patel’s elevation to the post has caused ripples halfway around the world - becoming headline news in papers and on television in the Gujarat region from which he hails in India.

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Cllr Yakub Patel, mayor of Preston for the 2023/24 municipal (image:  Michael Porter Photography)Cllr Yakub Patel, mayor of Preston for the 2023/24 municipal (image:  Michael Porter Photography)
Cllr Yakub Patel, mayor of Preston for the 2023/24 municipal (image: Michael Porter Photography)

“They just feel very proud that someone of Indian origin, from their town of Bharuch, can hold such a high position in a country like England,” Cllr Patel told the Post.

“They interviewed my sister and went to the family home, where my mother - who is 94 years old - is living at the moment. She actually stays with us, [but] every now and then she goes back to India.”

Cllr Patel’s journey to the prestigious role of city mayor began when he arrived in the then town of Preston in 1976 and started work for Preston’s corporation-run bus company.

His work briefly saw him transferred to Leicester six years later - but within just six months, he was back, pining for a Preston he had come to regard as home in the relatively short time he had lived there.

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“Preston was a nice quiet town with a lot of equality and diversity - a very peaceful town. Leicester was very busy and there was a lot of hustle and bustle. I loved the harmony in Preston.”.

It is that sense of community which Cllr Patel still finds in abundance in the city - not least in the way in which residents pulled together during the early days of the pandemic and continue to do so via the voluntary groups that are trying to see Prestonians through the cost-of-living crisis.

He will support the Rosemere Cancer, Preston Domestic Violence Services and Emmaus charities via his fundraising efforts during his year as mayor.

Cllr Patel was first elected to serve the Avenham ward on the then borough council for four years from 1995 - when he was Preston’s first Muslim councillor - and returned to the authority in 2011, now representing Fishwick and Frenchwood. In the interim period, he spent eight years as Lancashire county councillor.

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He had to pass up his first chance to be mayor two years ago, as he was too busy at the time with his work as Vice President and, later, Secretary of the Preston Jamea Mosque.

Cllr Patel, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in September, told the Post that being mayor is a “seven-day-a-week job” - and he has attended eight events in the first full week since his installation.

However, he is confident that the work ethic that he has relied upon throughout his life will give him the stamina he needs to carry out his duties over the next 12 months - along with the support of his wife of 47 years, Rashida, whom he described as his “rock” in everything he does.

His advice to students who have already visited him since he took over as mayor is simple - work hard and “never give up”.

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“Set your target, make a commitment and dedication to it - and always work towards your goal.”

For Cllr Patel - who has three children and seven grandchildren - that goal was not obvious when he first arrived in the UK, armed with a Master’s degree in English Literature. He spent just over a year working in a factory at Red Scar, before becoming a bus conductor - a decision which raised eyebrows amongst some of those who knew him.

“People were saying: ‘You’ve got a Master's degree, you should have got a job somewhere else.’ But this was my fate, it was fixed for me from the Almighty God,” he said.

His career ultimately took him from being bus conductor to sitting on the board of directors of the company as operations manager - via stints as a driver, revenue inspector, profit inspector and chief inspector.

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While he regards that path as destiny, he did not predict that one of his stopping off points would be as Preston’s top dignitary - but it seems he could not be prouder than to have now arrived at that particular destination.

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