Claire Darke: My pride as Wolverhampton Mayor during a time of unprecedented crisis and challenge

Claire Darke is ending two challenging but unforgettable years as Mayor of Wolverhampton. Today she describes the experience.

Promoting the annual mayoral charity quiz, Wolverhampton Mayor Claire Darke, with a raffle prize of a wolf sculpture signed by Liam Payne, at Queen Square
Promoting the annual mayoral charity quiz, Wolverhampton Mayor Claire Darke, with a raffle prize of a wolf sculpture signed by Liam Payne, at Queen Square

After two years in my role as Mayor of Wolverhampton, my time is coming to an end.

In preparation for the inauguration of the new mayor, I must hand back the uniform – the full mayoral regalia including gloves, hat, a fabulous red gown and the centuries-old magnificent city badge on their golden chains.

Due to the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, I have been a mayor working from home.

My first year of office was an exceptionally busy one, but we transformed the way we did things as the pandemic hit and I was asked to stay on for a second year.

The role of the Mayor of Wolverhampton is purely ceremonial; the leader of the council holds the political power.

I meet and greet anyone who invites the mayor to promote, enhance and celebrate our great city.

Mayor of Wolverhampton Claire Darke

I share the message that the people and the place, businesses and our communities are welcoming, worth celebrating and that we are a microcosm of the globe.

In lockdown, this all became seemingly impossible.

Despite the fear and uncertainty that the pandemic created, we got creative and changed our ways of working.

I was never supposed to stay in the role two years but the succession of a new mayor was understandably low on the council’s pandemic priority list.

This enabled me to remain as mayor for a second term.

Mayor Claire Darke drumming up support for Wolverhampton during the recent Beatsabar Studios open day at Newhampton Arts Centre

It also enables the new mayor, Councillor Greg Brackenridge, to fully enjoy the role post-pandemic.

This year, all official mayoral activities have moved online with no physical face-to-face events; the very opposite of the first year.

We went digital, and virtual. My consort Dr Paul Darke honed his video-making skills and I improved my ‘talking to camera’ skills – which is not as easy as it looks!

We set up a camera corner at home to film, edit and subtitle messages to support local organisations and campaigns.

As more people adapted to connecting online, we created our very own Zoom background for online events and activities, including Wolverhampton City Radio quizzes, various workshops, local art groups, poetry readings and many other events.

Wolverhampton's Remembrance service at the Cenotaph in St Peter's Square

Even through these difficult times, the people of Wolverhampton have worked together to support communities in our city and beyond.

A pivotal part of my role has been putting Wolverhampton on the international map.

We do far more than just look after our own, we lead and inspire others to become a diverse and harmonious place like Wolverhampton.

During my term of office, Wolverhampton became a part of the United Nations Learning City network in partnership with the Unesco Institute of Lifelong Learning.

Our world-class education facilities have generated significant interest from international dignitaries far more important than me.

Wolverhampton Mayor Claire Darke at Hugh Porter's 80 laps event at Aldersley Stadium

Online conferences hosted from Cork, Ireland, and Pécs, Hungary, inspired a greater global recognition for our city.

I hope Wolverhampton takes the opportunity to host more international conferences in future both virtually and ‘in real life’.

I am pleased to see Wolverhampton taking the lead nationally, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government moving its headquarters here.

Virtual events have led us to getting to grips with social media and go beyond our usual events.

During the winter months, we put together a mayoral quiz with contributions from well-known Wulfrunians and organisations such as the Grand Theatre, the university and other local businesses.

I would like to thank everyone who made my term of Mayor possible; I could never have imagined being Mayor of our city when I started as a housing warden in Bilston 36 years ago.

I wish my colleague who will take over the role the very best of luck.

As for me, there will certainly be an empty void when my term of mayor ends but I look forward to holding future leadership roles supporting the city of Wolverhampton to become the best it can be.

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