10:10am Wednesday 26th December 2012
By Tom Edwards
WHEN newspapers pay tribute to all those people who work over the festive period; nurses, fire crews and police officers are normally the heroes whocome to mind.
But while they protect people and save lives, one man has been spreading some timely cheer in his own special way complete with a whopping gold chain.
The Mayor of Worcester has one overarching aim for his calendar year in office – to “tackle the prejudice” that exists towards the most vulnerable people in society.
Councillor Roger Berry, who took over in May, has already raised £17,000 so far for his two chosen charities, St Paul’s Hostel and Maggs Day Centre.
While most households across the city have been getting into the festive stride with some time off work, his workload has been going the opposite way, with engagements day and night.
None of them were more important than Christmas Day itself, when he went to Worcestershire Royal Hospital to visit sick children and older patients stuck away from home.
Apart from Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, it’s been one engagement after the other to fulfil his duties, many of them with his wife Jill, the mayoress.
“It’s good to see people with a smile on their faces at this time of year, and to be honest what I enjoy most about being the mayor is meeting ordinary people,” he said.
“At the time I started this role the only thing that surprised me was how it was so hectic so soon, but it had got a bit calmer of late.
“The festive period is typically fairly busy – but I did have two days off in a row in the middle of December, which is very unusual for me.
“I have loved meeting children over the last few months and as my wife is a former teacher she’s been great with them too.
“I remember meeting a cubs group in St John’s and one young lad, all wide-eyed, asking me, ‘Where do you shop?’ and my wife said, ‘The Co-op in St John’s’, to which he replied, ‘What, you mean like ordinary people?’”
“He then said ‘don’t you get recognised in there?’, it was so funny.
“In reality we are ordinary people – I have to cut my garden, do the washing and all the other 1,001 jobs everyone else does.”
He said his main message during this time of year will be to spare a thought for people living rough on the streets, especially in the cold weather.
He is drawing up plans for an event called ‘Homelessness not Help-lessness’, which will take place at the Guildhall on Saturday, January 26.
It will bring together housing associations, volunteers, and experts from institutions such as the Maggs Day Centre, as well as benefits advisers, who can offer assistance to people who sleep rough or are at risk of it.
Coun Berry, an ex-social worker, said: “I want to get people talking about this a lot more – we need to fend off this wrong perception all homeless people are mentally ill or drunks. It’s about tackling prejudice.”
Data from Worcester City Council reveals Coun Berry completed 294 official engagements from May to the start of December, a tally which is likely to double by the time he steps down.
The amount he will have raised for the two homeless centres is also set to shoot up, with the fund-raising initiatives ongoing.
“It’s not massive amounts of money but the key thing is, people start to talk about it a bit more,” he said.
“If I can raise the profile of what these places do, then great.”
One of his other aims will be to boost the profile of the Guildhall as a tourist attraction, with Coun Berry adamant the building is an underused asset.
He’s offered tours to students from countries including France, Germany, Spain, America and China since taking office but believes the city council could organise more.
“My knowledge of the Guildhall has increased a lot since I become mayor and I’ll be lobbying on this, because I think a lot of people would benefit from proper tours,” he said.
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