Outgoing Leeds Lord Mayor says ‘Thanks for the memories...and enjoy my Lego-cy!’

Date:1st April  2016. Picture James Hardisty.
Completion of the giant Lego Leeds City Crest, made entirely out of 201, 748 bricks taking over 180 hours. Pictured The Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Judith Chapman, with her daughter Harriet daughter who came up with the idea to help promote World Autism Awareness Day.
Date:1st April 2016. Picture James Hardisty. Completion of the giant Lego Leeds City Crest, made entirely out of 201, 748 bricks taking over 180 hours. Pictured The Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Judith Chapman, with her daughter Harriet daughter who came up with the idea to help promote World Autism Awareness Day.
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For outgoing Leeds Lord Mayor Judith Chapman, the last year has been one full of many personal and professional highs.

And though she has loved every minute of her tenure, she admits she would never want to put on the hallowed chains of office again.

Armistice Day Service at the Cenotaph, Leeds..The Lord Mayor of Leeds Coun Judith Chapman pictured at the service...SH100142401d..11th November 2015 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Armistice Day Service at the Cenotaph, Leeds..The Lord Mayor of Leeds Coun Judith Chapman pictured at the service...SH100142401d..11th November 2015 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

“I have had such a fantastic year that I could never replicate it. I shall look back with wonderful memories of all the people that I have met from all over Leeds, and travelling to places I didn’t even know existed before this year. I will look back on it all with great pride.”

Asked to describe her highlights, she says speaking at a Remembrance Day service for Jewish servicemen at the city’s Sinai Synagogue is among the top moments.

“This year it happened to be in my own synagogue, and I was asked to speak before the service, which was quite moving for me.

“I’d grown up there, I was born into the synagogue, as were my family.

The Lord Mayor plants trees with schoolchildren at Temple Newsam

The Lord Mayor plants trees with schoolchildren at Temple Newsam

“As I looked around the room, I looked at people I’d grown up with. And that was very powerful. I felt that I was representing our community as well as the city.”

Another highlight, though also sombre in tone, was the annual visit of a group of children from Chernobyl - the site of a huge nuclear power plant disaster 30 years ago - for whom she hosted a small reception. Many families in the former Soviet town still live in great poverty and the horrific legacy of the disaster still lingers for many.

During her year in office, Coun Chapman has been raising money for the Specialist Autism Services charity, for which she has already received around £60,000 in cash and in-kind donations.

The charity helps people with various types of autism, including Asperger’s, something her own daughter Harriet, 36, was diagnosed with four years ago.

It was Harriet who came up with the idea of building the coat of arms of Leeds in Lego as a permanent reminder of her mum’s Mayoral tenure.

Created out of 200,000 individual Lego bricks - and sponsored by Coun Chapmen’s personal friend Henry Cohen - the 3.5m sq crest was put together by Harriet, her colleagues and volunteers from Specialist Autism Services.

As she gets ready to hand over the Mayoral chains to successor Gerry Harper next month, Coun Chapmen is asking businesses, organisations and individuals who could provide a permanent home for the piece to come forward.

“We had huge fun building it,” she said.

“We are now looking for a home for it. I am leaving it as a legacy of my tenure as Lord Mayor and obviously I’d like people to see it.

“It would work as a mural as it’s on a frame underneath and they could hang each quarter individually.

“If several people are interested and they only want it for a short length of time, that too is fine, I am open to ideas.”

The mural is a source of both pride and passion for Coun Chapman, as for her, it represents the ethos of the charity Specialist Autism Services.

“I went to a school and they had been talking about ‘it’s ok to be different’ and I think that actually sums it up.”

As well as being the public face of Leeds City Council over the municipal year, the Mayor’s job also includes overseeing - in a politically neutral capacity - the monthly meetings of the full council.

She admits the inevitable mischief and theatrics of that occasion took some getting used to, and her first and last meetings were particularly memorable.

“It can be very difficult,” she said.

“We don’t really make political decisions but It’s a little like Question Time at Parliament,

“I actually turned the microphone off in my first full council so that I could gain control of what was going on.

“It really was a memorable one to start with, and they gave me a lively one to end with!”

Asked if the Lord Mayor role is still relevant, she says it is important to have a “truly ceremonial” representative of local democracy.

“You attend dinner, AGMS, birthdays, funerals. You do quite a lot of work with voluntary organisations and partnerships. I went to London for the garden party, to Wembley to see the Rhinos play Hull in the final.

“If it was an elected Mayor, they couldn’t possibly have the time to do all that and the political side of the role.

“It’s not about looking for power. It’s about showing that Leeds is a proud city and the Mayor is there to represent it.”

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