Worthing's new mayor has described the role as a 'tremendous honour' as he was elected today.
Councillor Paul Baker donned the iconic robe and chain of office at Worthing Borough Council's annual meeting this afternoon, having been nominated by council leader Dan Humphreys and seconded by councillor Val Turner.
His mayoral charities will be Guild Care Haviland House dementia care home, Ferring Country Centre, which helps people with learning difficulties improve their vocational and social skills, and Love Your Hospital, the dedicated charity for Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He hoped the money raised for the latter would go towards setting up a birthing suite at Worthing Hospital especially for women with stillborn children.
He said: "It is with great humility and tremendous honour that I am so pleased to accept the role as mayor of the borough of Worthing. The history of this role has seen many great men and women that have left a tremendous mark on the borough."
The engineer will continue working full-time during his mayoral year, but has been granted 16 public service days by his employer, who he thanked. He also said another difference in his tenure as mayor will be the fact he is disabled, having lost a leg four years ago.
Every mayor has to pick a theme for their year: and Paul's is 'communities'. He said: "I want to try to help people build communities in their neighbourhood. For too long now we have lived in isolation: leaving our homes for work, returning in the evening and shutting the door behind us. How many of us even know our neighbours, let alone see them as friends?"
The former president of Worthing Rugby Club paid tribute to his predecessor, councillor Alex Harman, who at the time of his election was one of the country's youngest mayors at age 23, and his wife and mayoress Sandra, who he described as his 'constant companion and best friend'.
Councillor Hazel Thorpe is deputy mayor this year, having postponed becoming president of the Worthing Lions to take on the responsibility.
Reflecting on his year as mayor, Mr Harman said: "No matter how much you think you know about Worthing, when you visit so many different organisations and meet so many people, you learn so much more. It is an incredibly humbling experience."
A highlight of his time as mayor was giving the Freedom of Worthing to the Mayor of Richebourg, Gerard Delahaye, at a ceremony last week. Click here to read more.
In a humourous aside, council leader Dan Humphreys remembered the first time he met Mr Harman. It was while visiting the home of his parents, both borough councillors, and he was 'only wearing a towel'. He said: "The first time I met councillor Paul Baker he was fully dressed, and I'm glad to say we have stuck to that since."
"I'm happy to say I won't be feeling quite so ancient when I see the mayor," he quipped.
The youth mayor Katie Waters and her deputy Jimi Taylor were also elected. She invited the public to attend the youth council meetings, held at the town hall on the first and third Monday of each month at 7pm.
She said: "Despite the fact that we may not have the youngest mayor any more, we still have a youth mayor, and I will still be championing issues affecting young people in Adur and Worthing because we are here, and we do matter."
Read on for a question and answer session with the new mayor.
What is your background?
Born and bred in Worthing, I was brought up in Durrington and attended Durrington Primary School, West Tarring County Secondary School, Northbrook College and Brighton Technical College where I obtained an HNC in Electrical Engineering.
I follow in a long family tradition with the the Borough Council as my father worked for the authority for more than 40 years in street lighting and highways; as did his grandfather before him, who was a street light lense cleaner on a bike with ladder and bucket - there was no health and safety those days!
I served an Electrical Engineering apprenticeship at Beecham Pharmaceuticals and went on to be a hospital field service engineer and area sales manager. In 2000 myself and my wife Sandra purchased a small hotel in Worthing which we ran for ten years. I have since moved back into electrical sales and now work as a technical support engineer for ABB UK Ltd in both solar energy and electric vehicle charging.
I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible and doing my best to make the year beneficial to our town.
What are your interests away from being a councillor?
Singing - I have sung with many local choirs and performing varied pieces from Handel’s Messiah to Guns n Roses.I have a passion for rugby too - I played 1st XV rugby for Worthing RFC during the 1980’s and was President for three years.
Why did you become a councillor?
I became a Councillor, as most people do, to try and help people and make positive changes for the good of Worthing.
What are your priorities for the coming year as Mayor?
My priorities are assisting in building communities, working with community associations and neighbourhood groups, and promoting volunteering for the good of everyone in the town.
Which charities will you be supporting as Mayor?
My charities are Guild Care Haviland House dementia care home, Ferring Country Centre and Love Your Hospital, which is the the dedicated charity for Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
What are your three favourite things about Worthing?
My three favourite things about Worthing are: the people who live here, their friendliness and positive attitude; Worthing’s location with the sea to the south and the Downs to the north; and the variety of things to do, the theatres, museum, restaurants and amenities.
Tell us something about the mayoralty we didn’t know?
The Mayoral Chain weighs in at 32oz and was paid for by public subscription in 1891.