Bridgwater has had some ‘firsts’ in its time. First town to petition against the Slave Trade (1785). First town to vote against the Munich Agreement (1938). First town where someone under the age of 21 could vote (1970) and now home to Britain’s first Portuguese born Mayor.
For the year 2018-19, Cllr Diogo Rodrigues will be Mayor of Bridgwater. Diogo was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira but has lived in Britain for most of his life. Since being elected to Bridgwater Town Council in 2015 to represent the Dunwear North ward on the Sydenham estate, Diogo has been especially active in youth matters, setting up a Youth Forum, introducing a grant system to seed fund new and existing youth projects and successfully campaigned to increase that fund this year. At the age of 28 Diogo is also Bridgwater’s youngest ever Mayor.
Civic Tradition 1468-2018
Bridgwater Town Council has been in existence since 2003 and is the closest local authority to the people, however there have been Mayors of Bridgwater since 1468. The role of Mayor at Town level is ceremonial and the person in post changes yearly. Like with all Town Councillors the role is unpaid, however the Mayor does have a modest personal budget to promote the Town with. There are 16 Town Councillors and each year one of them is elected by the other 15 to do the job. The role of Mayor was reviewed in 2016 and can be found here. The Political head of the Town Council is the Leader who operates through a system of Community based Forums with Councillors fronting each, and the report for 2018 can be found here.
The Town’s Ambassador
The main role of the Mayor is as Ambassador for the town within the community and within the country at large. Outgoing Mayor Graham Granter undertook some 200 Mayoral events during 2017-18. Diogo, who is a restaurant owner, is well aware of the job description and is already throwing himself into his role starting this week with an invitation to the Czech Republic which is celebrating 100 years of independence and wants the civic head of Bridgwater there because – another first – Bridgwater was the first town to twin with a Czech town post Velvet Revolution (1992). As part of the visit Diogo will attend and speak at a Conference on European funding and will concentrate on opportunities for youth.
Mayor Making hits the Media
Friday May 11th saw the ‘Mayor Making’ ceremony. Held in the newly refurbished Bridgwater Room in the Town Hall, Diogo’s inauguration already attracted considerable media attention. Not only were the BBC there to capture the historic event, which went out the following day on Points West, but a camera crew from RTP (Radio-Television Portugal) were also present, and had spent the day touring to town and talking to the townsfolk and gaining an impression of the scale of task awaiting their boy. BBC Radio had already been around town earlier that day following Diogo on his town tour were he highlighted Carnival, the Arts Centre, the Engine Room and the Blake Museum along with the problems and opportunities presented by Hinkley, the Tidal Barrier and the new Hotels.
The Embassy is Proud
Such was the interest in this special event that the Portuguese Embassy had sent down its Deputy Consul General. Joao Paulo Brito was clearly extremely proud that one of his fellow Portuguese citizens (even though he spoke with a broad Essex accent) had become the first Portuguese Mayor of a British town.“It is particularly important at this juncture when there are forces trying to drive Europeans apart. It is genuinely history in the making. Often when Portuguese people move to a new country, they tend to keep themselves to themselves but it is fantastic to see someone getting involved in politics and the local community”. Mr Brito, while handing a note from the Portuguese Ambassador, also suggested that Diogo might like to stand as MP next, drawing thinly veiled ‘Harrumphs’ and a coughing fit from current MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, sat next to him.
Focus on Youth
Diogo was nominated to the post by Cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) who said “It gives me great honour to propose Diogo Rodrigues as the new mayor of Bridgwater. Since being elected Diogo has been instrumental in the town council’s recent focus on youth and its youth grants. I know this first hand having spoken to the manager of the Victoria Park Community Centre – the youth grants there have helped set up youth clubs including one for disabled children, one for those who act as carers to parents or siblings and another for ethnic minority groups.”
Diogo was seconded by Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) and elected unanimously by all councillors present. The Deputy Mayor would be Cllr Tony Heywood (Eastover) who currently heads up the transport Forum and the Cultural Partnership.
Mayor Rodrigues,assuming the red robes, white gloves and quaint 18th century hat, stood above the town’s ancient Mace, and addressed the audience present saying “Thank to my fellow councillors for nominating me for this important role.Over the coming year we will look to celebrate Bridgwater’s cultural diversity, and I also hope we can continue to support our young people so that they can make progress in their lives.”
Diogo announced not only that his partner Nathan would assume the role of Mayor’s Consort for the year but that they would be getting married during his term of office, bringing a warm round of applause from all present.
After the ceremony, the Mayor led the guests into the main Town Hall where other townspeople were assembling to be entertained by the Westfield Church youth singers who performed a mixture of pop songs by groups such as Oasis to full stage song and dance numbers from popular stage shows, clearly reflecting the creativity and talent of Bridgwater’s young people.
The Mayor Making marks the start of the civic year and is a chance for people from all the different communities and service providers from across the town to get to know each other and to understand what the Town Council’s priorities are.
Top Police officers rubbed shoulders with Community Centre managers, Portuguese, Polish and Bengali workers met up with young and old alike from the host community, Trades Unionists chatted to Business people and Mayors from around the County (the apocryphal ‘Chain Gang’) chatted to local elected representatives.
Around the hall, information boards advertised the cultural life of the town, international flags held out the hand of friendship to new workers and the long term migrant community and on each table the new Mayor had placed ‘goodie bags’ advertising all that was good about the town for the guests to take back to their communities. Diogo had started as he meant to go on. Promoting his town and celebrating diversity.