From donning the chain of office to the fundraising skydive which ended his civic year, Calderdale’s retiring Mayor Ferman Ali says he had a “fantastic” twelve months.
An at times emotional Mr Ali – he decided to step down from the council and did not defend his Park ward seat for Labour in May’s local elections – described a rich exploration of everything Calderdale had to offer, and what it in turn had to offer the world.
In the big scheme of things he gave thanks for being part of democracy at its best, while the detail was just as important, with Ferman and his Mayoress, his wife Shaheen, fulfilling more than 200 engagements the length and breadth of Calderdale during their civic year.
He said becoming Mayor was “a dream come true” and having arrived as a nine-year-old from a small community in Pakistan could not believe how far he and his family had come in this country.
“I can only thank this democracy for what it has given me, for all the hard work I have done, and I have tried to represent it the best I can. Over the past year I have done 237 official engagements, which has been an absolute delight going and visiting different organisations and thanking them for the work they do day in and day out,” he said.
He had enjoyed meeting community groups from all parts of the borough and one thing he had learned to value was the voluntary contributions made to their communities by many Calderdale people and more were needed. “We do need to highlight our volunteers, without them we would struggle to get the work done,” he said.
Reflecting on his year after handing the chain of office and the civic baton on to Councillor Marcus Thompson and his Mayoress Mrs Nicky Chance-Thompson, it had been an emotional experience from being Deputy Mayor in 2015 to taking it one step further to represent the borough as its first citizen in 2017-18.
It is a role that enabled he and his wife to see the rich heritage Calderdale had, much of which was now being utilised to help Calderdale prosper in the future.
More personal highlights included “firsts” such as a Muslim community event being held in the Town Hall for the first time. “My community from Park ward realised it is an open, public space and were able to see what a fantastic building it is,” he said.
The bringing back into community use of some key Calderdale buildings – or the opening of new ones – came in Mr Ali’s year. “Opening the Industrial Museum was special to me. I worked in the textile trade as did members of my family,” he said.
Other big events included the opening of the new Central Library and the honour of sending the Tour De Yorkshire cyclists off on their final day.
The latter was done from The Piece Hall, the reopening of which after a three-year £19 million restoration was certainly one of, if not the biggest, events of his civic year.
He was astonished by the amount of people coming through the gates on opening day last August – and more than two million people had come to visit the Piece Hall in its first eight months.
“What a fantastic building we have – it is one of the top destinations in the country now, and has put Calderdale on the stage across the world,” he said.
Mr Ali thanked his staff who helped organise his Mayoral year and paid tribute to two people, Chris Harris and Councillor Geraldine Carter (Con, Ryburn) who had been unstinting supporters of his civic work. He also spoke about his support from Vicar of Halifax Canon Rev Hilary Barber with a number of events held at Halifax Minster.
The Mayor’s Skydive ended his year of fundraising for his chosen charity, the St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax, which brings together and works with people from a wide range of backgrounds including asylum seekers, refugees, vulnerable migrants and socially excluded British people.
Mr Ali, Mayoress Mrs Shaheen Ali, retiring Deputy Mayor Coun Jane Scullion and her consort Mr Andrew Bibby were thanked for their work and presented with commemorative medals.