Wolverhampton's first African-Caribbean mayor takes up reins and hopes to inspire youth

"I think that young people across Wolverhampton will look and think 'well, Sandra dared to dream and if she can do it, so can I'."

Sandra Samuels OBE
Sandra Samuels OBE

Those are the words of a councillor who has become the first person of African-Caribbean heritage to become the Mayor of Wolverhampton – and how she hopes to inspire others.

Councillor Sandra Samuels OBE was today starting out in her new role, taking on the position from Councillor Greg Brackenridge after a ceremony on Wednesday night.

It means the councillor is the first person of African-Caribbean heritage to hold the title of mayor in almost 200 years of history – and only the eleventh woman to take on the role.

The former Mayor of Wolverhampton, Greg Brackenridge and the then-Deputy Mayor Sandra Samuels – who took up her role as mayor last night.

And her road to the non-political role has been anything but typical, with the Ettingshall representative first arriving in the UK at the age of 10 from Jamaica – following her mother and father who left Jamaica in 1959 in search of a better life.

She joined her parents alongside her other two siblings and recalled seeing "smoke coming out of the top of houses, which is something you don't have in Jamaica,".

And once settled in the country, she attended junior school followed by senior school in Bushbury – at Northicote – before progressing onto Wulfrun College, now Wolverhampton College, and then university, studying nursing.

She described her career in the NHS as "fantastically challenging", having had roles in general surgery, dermatology, neurosurgery and even open heart surgery. And then, in May 1998, she joined the Labour party – becoming local secretary of the branch within six months and a parliamentary candidate within 12 months.

"Also within 12 months I had joined the National Labour Party so I was nominated and elected to be on the national policy forum, which is the policy-making body of Government, on which I spent the next 13 years," she said.

"All that is alongside working full time and also being a local councillor, which I stood [for] firstly in 2001, secondly in 2002, again in 2003 and got elected in 2004. It was a bit like a whirlwind because everything was just happening so quickly."

The Labour councillor said there were moments when she had to pinch herself due to the fact she was discussing policies with the Health Secretary, using her breadth of knowledge from her role in the NHS.

She was later awarded an OBE in 2015 for services to local government and politics – and will now lead the city through the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations and the Commonwealth Games as the mayor.

She said: "I'm absolutely elated and a little anxious at the moment, but I think it's wonderful for the city.

"This is a diverse city and there is a wonderful tapestry of individuals across it, so I feel that I can contribute a lot to the role, not just locally, but also regionally and nationally.

"I have aims and ambitions for this city and I want to develop this city and embrace community cohesion."

Councillor Samuels said Wolverhampton is a "fantastic" and diverse city which she was proud to represent, adding: "I want to make sure I am ready for the challenge, with a busy time coming with the Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games.

"I am ready for the challenge and I will need all the support all around me, which I have a fantastic team for with an army of people around me who work me.

"I want to put it on record that I want to thank the Mayoral team for all their hard work and I would not have got where I am today if it hadn't been for them."

Her consort during her mayoral year will be her husband of 40 years, Karl Samuels, while Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre is set to become deputy mayor for 2022-2023.

And the new mayor will be raising money throughout the year for her three chosen charities: the Wolverhampton African Caribbean Community Initiative, which provides mental health and suicide prevention services; Compton Care which provides palliative care; and Wolverhampton Sickle Cell Care and Activity Centre, which provides services for people with the genetic blood disorder.

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