What it's like to... Be a mayor
Being the first citizen is a role that very few people will ever have the chance to experience.
It's long been a symbol of authority through the insignia of the mayoral robes, mace and chain. But how does it feel to hold this prestigious civic position and represent a borough for a year?
"It's an absolute privilege," says Councillor Steve Waltho who finished his reign as Mayor of Dudley in May.
"What is so nice is that it's a position that is still held in such high regard.
"The council, and councillors by extension, can often be seen as the root of all evil. But the mayor is very different.
"Everyone is so welcoming and they really see it as an honour if the mayor attends their event. As a mayor you are definitely an ambassador for your borough," he says.
Father of two Steve had previously been deputy mayor which he described as 'an apprenticeship' preparing him for when he would step up to the top position.
His appointment came after making it known he would be interested in the job and then he was nominated by his fellow Labour councillors.
A deputy mayor will normally automatically step into the mayor's shoes the following year.
But sometimes politics can get in the way. If the ruling group on the council changes, it may decide to appoint someone else.
"I was lucky because everything went to plan but I have seen it happen to deputies before and they have missed out. It's devastating for them," Steve says.
He was sworn in as mayor in May last year, signalling the start of a whirlwind 12 months which would see Steve and his mayoress wife Jane attend or host a staggering 450 different functions.
To enable him to properly throw himself into his duties, the 61-year-old knew he would need to take a break from his job as a shift team leader at Oldbury-based Solvay where he has worked for 40 years.
"I'm very grateful to my employer because I spoke to them and explained the situation and they understood.
"They agreed to replace me for a year. Jane was also able to take a break from her part-time job in the NHS. This meant we could devote all our time to it."
Among the highlights of their year was meeting Princess Anne twice, including during the opening of a new visitor centre at Dudley Canal Trust, and joking with Dudley-born funnyman Sir Lenny Henry.
"Lenny is absolutely hilarious and the great thing is that you can see that all the people who work with him love him to bits. He's such a local hero and he's never, ever, forgotten his roots," recalls Steve.
Another favourite event was the Dudley Volunteer Awards, which was organised by Dudley CVS and honoured the borough's unsung heroes.
"It was a fantastic event and very humbling. One thing I've learned, as I have been travelling around the borough, is how much good goes on. It's astonishing really. There are all these individuals and groups in the different communities really making a difference.
"As a ward councillor, you don't tend to look any further than your own ward, unless you're a cabinet member, but as mayor you really get to be involved in every part of the borough and it's a real eye-opener," says Steve.
Whatever the event, the mayor can always be recognised by the shiny and elaborate gold chain hanging around their neck but what is it like wearing one?
"They definitely have some weight to them. The mayoress chain is a bit more delicate though. What not many people realise is that they are actually pinned to your clothing because they rest better if they are attached to you.
"But it means you can't take your jacket or outer layer off which can be hard when it gets warm!
"We were also aware when we were wearing them that they are worth a small fortune!
"The chains are a real novelty, especially with youngsters who love looking at them," says Steve, who lives in Kingswinford.
Charity is also a big part of the job. At the start of his mayoral year, Steve was determined to devote time to raising money for his five chosen good causes.
This included him running this year's London Marathon and hosting events including a curry night and a cricket match. And all of his efforts paid off with his fundraising total standing at a record £55,500.
In May, to mark the end of his reign and to thank everyone who had supported them, the couple organised and hosted a celebration event at The Venue in Dudley.
It included the former mayoress putting her husband, along with Labour group leader Pete Lowe and Councillor Melvyn Mottram, through their paces in a special 'Mayor Does Strictly' dance contest.
"Charity is very important to me so I wanted to do everything I could to raise as much as possible and it was staggering because the money just kept coming in. I am very grateful to everyone who has sponsored and supported us throughout the year. Among them was the Gentlemen Songsters Male Voice Choir – I was so impressed that I've even joined them!"
But Steve, who represents St Thomas's ward on Dudley Council, says none of it would have been possible without the support of his 'right-hand woman'.
"Jane has such a warm personality that she put everyone we met at ease. I wouldn't have done any of it without her by my side. It's been a phenomenal year."
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