'I'd love for people to say 'thank you' more often': Outgoing mayor reflects on Covid and meeting district's unsung heroes

Over the last two years, he's met hundreds of Wakefield's finest and raised more than £13,000 for charity.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 9:17 am
Updated Friday, 21st May 2021, 9:18 am
Coun Keith has been thanking the district's unsung heroes. Picture coutresy of Mayor of Wakefield/Twitter.

But for outgoing district mayor Charlie Keith, there is a wider message he wants society to take on board.

"I'd love for people to say 'thank you' more regularly to others for the jobs that they do," he smiles, from the mayoral parlour at Wakefield Town Hall.

It's Coun Keith's last day in the parlour he's come to regard as a "second home", having been the only mayor, or first citizen, of the modern era to serve for two years rather than the usual one.

Coun Keith has been mayor for two years, instead of the usual one.

Coronavirus postponed the planned promotion of his deputy Tracey Austin, until Thursday.

But it meant Coun Keith's programme celebrating the Wakefield district's unsung heroes was given extra time.

And the pandemic meant the 'Mayor says thanks' drive was given more relevance than ever before, with NHS staff, supermarket workers and receptionists among those who got a certificate of appreciation for the work they do.

It was a small gesture, but it was always gratefully received.

Coun Keith alongside his then deputy, and now mayor, Tracey Austin, in 2019.

"I wanted to reward people who work at what I call the intimidation interface," Coun Keith explains.

"The people who are there on the frontline and often get grief from the public just for doing their jobs.

"I’m a volunteer up at Pinderfields Hospital where you get a heck of a lot of that at A&E.

"The reason why a 'thank you' means so much is because it's so rare."

Among the highlights of his time as mayor was stint on the zip wire at Knottingley's Adventure Playground, though unlike Boris Johnson, he did not get stuck.

There was also a visit to Wakefield Prison's Rivendell Unit, which provides treatment for offenders with particularly complex needs. It was a sobering experience, though one moment did offer a glimmer of amusement for Coun Keith.

"I was walking inside the prison with an alsatian the size of a pony," he chuckles. "It was barking like nobody’s business.

"I said to the rest of the party with me, “Now is not the time to throw a stick!”

"They call them land sharks. I said "Why's that?" They said, “Go near it and it will bite you.” It was huge!"

There are those who question the need for civic mayors and the money spent on them, but the role itself does raise huge sums for local charities every year, regardless of who's in the hotseat.

The Macular Degeneration Society, which supports sufferers of an age-related eye condition which can eventually cause blindness, is the main beneficiary of Coun Keith's fundraising since 2019.

The local hospices have also been helped.

He's also been doing marches in each of the district's 21 wards to promote his belief that, "You don't have to go to the Lake District to have a nice walk - there are some beautiful places here".

And back on the subject of unsung heroes, he's asked if the world needs to change a culture of shooting the messenger and aggression towards people in public-facing jobs.

"Society’s changed from when I was a kid," Coun Keith reflects.

"It’s a different way of serving people now.

"Hopefully this pandemic has taught us to let people have that bit of space and time. Does life have to be in this much of a rush?

"We keep hearing about 'going back to normal', but life always goes forward. We've all had to learn new tricks and get used to technology.

"I hope what we keep from all of this is knocking on the door of the old lady over the road to ask if she's got a bottle of milk. Making sure people are all right.

"Taking a bit of time to look out for others. That's what I hope will happen."

It's a hope few could disagree with.

Local Democracy Reporting Service