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Friday, 25 July 2014

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Ray Bloxham reflects on a year as Carlisle's first citizen

Having been fascinated by history and tradition for many years, Ray Bloxham is now officially part of it.

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Civic honour: Ray Bloxham, who is coming to the end of his year in office as Carlisle Mayor, is fascinated by its history. ‘To see my picture go up in the gallery alongside all the others will be really something,’ he said

With his term as a mayor of Carlisle drawing to a close on Monday, his picture will soon hang on the wall of the Civic Centre – alongside those who have held the honour before him.

Mr Bloxham has held the post for slightly longer than the usual 12 months, allowing the local elections to be completed before his successor and deputy are appointed.

In that time he and wife Olive, of Irthington, have made 356 visits as mayor and mayoress – and moved house in the middle of it.

But although it has been a busy year, Mr Bloxham said he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It is quite tiring – you are sometimes going to three or four things in one day – and I am probably ready for a break, but it would be wrong to say I won’t miss it because I definitely will,” he said.

“I will miss meeting so many people and being involved in so many things. And there is something really special about putting on the chain.”

The three charities he has supported are Carlisle Key, the Samaritans and Wetheral Animal Rescue, as well as giving smaller donations to several young people’s groups. “It was quite difficult to raise it in the financial climate we’ve been going through but the charity committee did extremely well. I’m delighted.”

In total, his year in office saw £18,000 raised for the causes.

Mr Bloxham, a former magistrate, was first elected to Carlisle City Council in 1992, representing Brampton.

Having left due to work commitments, he was re-elected in 1999 as Conservative councillor for Longtown and Rockcliffe.

Before moving to Cumbria he served on North Hertfordshire Council, holding the post of chairman in 1980/81.

But Mr Bloxham said being Mayor of Carlisle has been his greatest honour, especially because it holds such a historic significance to the city.

“It’s been a wonderful experience and I will be eternally grateful to my colleagues on the council for voting me into the position,” he said.

“I’ve always been fascinated by history and tradition. Carlisle should be very proud that it’s got these long-standing traditions and mayoralty. I was the 427th mayor, and that’s only the ones we know about. To see my picture go up in the gallery alongside all the others will be really something.”

Mr Bloxham has had many highlights from the last year, having being invited to so many events.

“It’s all memorable really, but one of the things I will never forget was welcoming the regiment back from Afghanistan. I remember sitting in the cathedral when the band struck up. It was amazing,” he said.

“Another that really sticks in my mind was the Tour of Britain when it came through Carlisle, as well as the races for the disabled. To see all the people there watching, it was quite emotional in many ways.

“It’s been quite an eventful year. One of the most enjoyable was the return of the Carlisle City Pageant. To see the children’s faces as the puppets went by was wonderful.

“And there was Christmas – we did 21 carol services.

“I love it anyway, I always have done. I’m a bit like a kid when it comes to Christmas, so this last year was really something.”

However, he added that there have been some sad times, having attended several high-profile funerals – not least that of city council leader Joe Hendry, who died suddenly almost exactly a year ago, aged 67.

But what has really had a lasting impact on him has been discovering all of the groups and organisations that exist in and around Carlisle – and meeting the army of volunteers who keep them afloat.

“I’ve met many, many people. I will always remember the volunteers. Volunteers from all sorts of organisations, and many of the same faces keeping popping up. Some of these organisations wouldn’t exist without them,” he said.

Also being a Conservative mayor in a Labour-led council has been interesting.

“You sit up there and see it from a different perspective. It’s a very sobering experience. As mayor you have to try to be impartial. I think I’ve managed it. I hope so anyway,” he added.

He said he wanted to thank everyone who had worked behind the scenes during his mayoral term, including those organising his diary, driving him to events and fundraising for his charities.

It is expected that the current deputy mayor, Labour’s Steven Bowditch, will be formerly selected to succeed Mr Bloxham on Monday, and a new Conservative deputy elected.

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