Mission to preserve city's traditions

Sam EmanuelIt was formed to ensure the civic traditions of the city were upheld and promote Norwich across East Anglia and abroad, and with more than 50 members, the Norwich Civic Association is still going strong.Sam Emanuel

It was formed to ensure the civic traditions of the city were upheld and promote Norwich across East Anglia and abroad, and with more than 50 members, the Norwich Civic Association is still going strong. SAM EMANUEL finds out more.

While people across the city from all walks of life still value and respect the position of Lord Mayor and the heritage associated with it, members of the Norwich Civic Association are concerned that the traditions may be under threat, and are on a mission to make sure they are not lost.

The association, which has 55 members and is made up of past and present Lord Mayors, Lady Mayoresses, Sheriffs and all badge-holding Consorts and partners, will be celebrating its third birthday at the end of the month.

It was formed when a group of councillors and former Lord Mayors became worried there had been a reduction in the Lord Mayor's duties, meaning the role had become more like that of a civil servant than a figurehead. They are still concerned that cuts as a result of Norwich City Council's �8m funding gap could affect the civic traditions.

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But they plan to work with the council to try and ensure these traditions, which they see as 'integral' to the history and life of the city, are upheld and supported.

Michael Banham, Lord Mayor of Norwich from 2005-2006, who is chairman of the association, said the city was in 'very difficult times' and added: 'Our members are very concerned about any cutbacks which could affect the history of our city. We are trying to work together with officers at City Hall and put forward ideas to make sure our heritage and traditions are preserved.'

He said that the Lord Mayor had a huge number of different roles, including promoting the city across the region and abroad, taking part in ceremonies and processions and furthering the interests of Norwich, adding: 'We provided The Boundary Commission with a huge amount of information for the unitary bid, and after consulting with our members we decided we were in favour of city council's bid.

'We are strictly non party political, but felt we are a Norwich association and wanted to support Norwich. Other things the Lord Mayor is involved with include The Lord Mayor's Procession, Remembrance Sunday services and parades and the Annual Civic Dinner.

'We also try and promote business in Norwich. It's quite demanding but it is only for a year, and it's about how you lift people. When they know the Lord Mayor is coming they all get excited.

'We try to promote the city as well and go to different places around the region and visit the cities abroad that Norwich is twinned with.'

Norwich has had more than 100 Lord Mayors, including Dr Peter English, who was awarded the title in 1978.

Now 81, he said: 'Some of the things I enjoyed most were the events with the services. I was Lord Mayor when the Royal Anglian Regiment received the freedom of the city, which was a very special occasion. They marched from the City Hall to the Cathedral with banners waving, and it was quite a sight.

'They were just about to be deployed overseas and so it was a real morale boost for them and gave them a good send off.

'I also enjoyed meeting such a variety of people around Norwich and attending their 100th birthdays and diamond wedding anniversaries - to hear some of their personal stories was very moving.'

Dr English is one of the many members of the association who feels the prestige of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff has declined.

He added: 'Somehow it seems to have lost some of that sense of dignity, it's just the way it's evolved. When I was Lord Mayor, every time I used to go for dinner, which was more or less every night, I would have a chauffeur and a sword-bearer to make sure I was dressed properly and I would be driven in the civic car.

'But now they sometimes have to drive themselves, and sometimes get a taxi. When I arrived at events, someone would go in before me to check there was someone to greet me, but now it seems they just have to go in themselves and wander about until they find someone.

'I'm incredibly passionate about preserving the traditions - the Lord Mayor and Sheriff are the link between the city authority, the diocese, the people and the organisations in Norwich.'

With such passionate members, the Civic Association hopes it will be able to achieve its goals by working with the city council and the people of Norwich, and although there is some concern about the future, hopes are still high.

The current Sheriff Derek James, who is also features editor for the Evening News, said: 'The chains and robes of office are symbols of a city with a rich and colourful past and an exciting future. During the year Lord Mayor Tom Dylan and I will be attending hundreds of events, large and small, across the city, celebrating all that is good about Norwich.

'The roles of Lord Mayor and Sheriff are as important today as they were hundreds of years ago.'

Is it important to preserve the traditions of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk or log on to www.eveningnews24.co.uk.

Facts about the Lord Mayor and the Civic Association

The current Lord Mayor is Tom Dylan, who is thought to be one of the city's youngest ever Lord Mayors.

The Sheriff is Derek James, who has been an Evening News columinst for decades.

Councillor Eve Collishaw, the city's last Lord Mayor, was the 100th to be appointed.

There are currently 55 members of the Civic Association, which meets four times a year.

The member of the Civic Association who was appointed as Lord Mayor or Sheriff of Norwich first was Stirling, who was appointed Sheriff in 1975.

Other long-standing civic figures who are members of the association include Dr Peter English, who was appointed Lord Mayor in 1978, Margaret Camina who was Sheriff in 1982, Pam Petersen, who was Lady Mayoress in 1984 and Jill Miller who was Lord Mayor in 1986 and 1991.

Between 1403 and 1835, Norwich was able to elect one Mayor and two Sheriffs annually. The municipal Reform Act that decreed that only one Sheriff could be elected abolished this 432-year-old privelidge. Letters on February 25, 1910, granted Norwich the title of Lord Mayor. Norwich is one of just 26 Lord Mayor Cities and 15 Sheriff Towns or Cities.