It’s usual for a serving lord mayor to support charities during their year of office - but Coun Gerry Harper has bigger ambitions than just raising money.
The new Lord Mayor of Leeds also wants to save lives, and he’s got very personal reasons for doing so.
He has picked two Leeds-based charities to support this year – Epilepsy Action and Heart Research UK – and wants to spread the word about how to correctly help someone who is having an epileptic seizure or a heart attack.
They’re issues close to his heart because of his own experiences.
Coun Harper was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2004 after suffering several seizures while asleep.
But he found it difficult to accept at first and didn’t want to tell anyone except close family and colleagues about the diagnosis.
“It’s not a good idea, because if you have a seizure when you’re out, people don’t know what to do,” he said.
However, he was forced to open up about the condition a few years ago when he suddenly suffered a seizure during a meeting with market traders at the Carriageworks.
“I felt a bit ill, and I started to nod off, and as I fell asleep, I had a seizure and collapsed on the floor,” he said.
No-one knew what had happened and initially nobody knew how to help.
He added: “Eventually one of the traders shouted to people to move away, and she did exactly the right things.”
Coun Harper recovered but realised he needed to reveal he had epilepsy.
“I sent an email to all the councillors and told them I’d decided to ‘come out’,” he said.
“I said I didn’t want to be treated any differently. Epilepsy is not going to affect what I do in my life.”
Keen to tackle the lack of knowledge among the public, he decided to use his year in office to take action about this and also on first aid for heart attack patients.
In 2001, former Councillor Brian Dale, a close friend, suffered a heart attack outside the Civic Hall. No-one was able to help until paramedics arrived and Coun Dale suffered from a lack of oxygen. He did survive and started to recover, though sadly died later in Chapel Allerton Hospital.
That experience inspired Coun Harper too and this year he is asking businesses and organisations to donate to the two charities in return for providing their staff with first aid training.
“What I want is to save people’s lives in Leeds,” he said.
“It’s a win-win situation. It’s raising awareness but it’s also getting people in the city trained up to deal with these situations.”
* Contact the Lord Mayor’s Office at Leeds Civic Hall to get involved.
Donate by visiting www.justgiving.com/lmca