The outgoing Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Elisha McCallion will kick off her high heels and slump in the sofa next week for a well-earned rest when she steps down from office on Monday.
Her 14-month tenure as the first Mayor of the newly formed Derry City and Strabane District Council comes to an end after what can only be described as a whirlwind year of attending functions and events, visiting schools, community groups and attending meetings.
But the Mum-of-three has successfully juggled family life with her hectic daily engagement schedule that has seen her travelling all across Derry and Strabane, seven days a week, sometimes not getting home until almost midnight.
“I have absolutely loved being Mayor, It’s been a fantastic experience and I have loved every minute of it. I am ready however, to pass the honour on to someone else and take a well-earned break to catch up on some much needed rest and family time with Declan, Daithi, Fiachra and Malachi.”
There has been many highlights of her Mayoral year and while many would rank meeting the US President Obama, the Irish President Michael D Higgins or Republic of Ireland team manager Martin O’Neill as their special moment, Elisha McCallion very modestly says meeting with the Syrian refugee families who have settled in Derry, as her highlight of her year.
“I am deeply affected by the crisis in Syria and the plight of the refugees and particularly the families with young children. I felt that I was in a very unique position as Mayor of the city and district to take a step forward and do something to help. With the help of local people and organisations from across the city we successfully set up a Mayoral refugee campaign to create awareness of the issue, and raise much needed money and supplies for those in need and I am delighted that just a few weeks ago we welcomed a number of families to live in our city.”
Meeting with the families was a hugely emotional experience for Elisha and something that will stay with her for a long time in the future. “It was a very special moment for me to meet with the families and to hear at first hand their stories. I am pleased that they are living in our community and successfully integrating among us. People from Derry and Strabane are very unique in their generosity and kindness and that is very evident in the way they have opened their hearts to welcoming the refugees.”
Elisha’s chosen charity for her Mayoral year was the Alzheimer’s Society, and to date she has raised in the region of £13,000 through a series of events throughout the year. “Alzheimer’s Society is very close to my heart after I watched my Mum and sisters gently care for my beloved Nanny Betty. I am delighted at the level of support I got from the public for the charity and also to have been in a position to create a better understanding and wider awareness of the illness.”
Elisha’s keenness to meet with the people and engage directly with the young and old was to the forefront of her Mayoral approach throughout the year.
“I absolutely loved meeting people, finding out where they came from, who they were related to and what their interests were. One of the highlights has to be the Tea Dances, I really loved going along, chatting to the older people that came along month after month for a waltz, a cuppa and chat. What an amazing group of people they are, with their great stories to tell and memories to share, I will miss them.
“Our young people are phenomenal and we really do not give them credit for how fantastic they are. Week in week out I visited schools and youth groups across the Council area and every time I was flabbergasted at how grounded, intelligent and knowledgeable they are. We need to embrace their enthusiasm and their energy and do what we can to retain them and encourage them to study here and live her and continue to be part of our society. I hope that through the work we are doing to encourage investment at Magee and through our bid for European Youth Capital status in 2019 we can do just that.”
Community engagement and working with the voluntary sector have also been a key part of Elisha McCallion’s commitment over the past year. “I was very keen to acknowledge the huge amount of work that is being done in the city and district by volunteers and was very pleased to be able to give them support and assistance in recognition of their dedication and commitment to helping others.“
The Centenary celebrations to commemorate the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme were significant for the Mayor who encouraged the wider public to be part of the many events organised across the Council area and spoke of the importance of working together to broaden our understanding of our history through shared experiences and celebration.
In keeping with her commitment to promote reconciliation and remembrance, the Mayor organised a cross community non-denominational Day of Reflection last month to allow people to remember all those who lost their lives as a result of conflict or war. She has also been to the fore in promoting cross community partnership and building strong good relations across all communities in the city and district.
There were some difficult moments too and the tragic passing of the local family at the pier in Buncrana earlier in the year was particularly difficult for the Mayor. “The Buncrana Pier tragedy really affected me, as a mother of three kids myself I felt very emotionally attached to it and felt the need to offer my support and that of the wider population to Louise McGrotty on her terrible loss. This event really brought the community together and we were united in grief and sadness.” The Mayor also acknowledged the sad passing of Gerry Anderson and Brian Friel by opening Books of Condolence in the Guildhall.
Representing the city, district and wider region across the world has been an important Mayoral role for Elisha this year when she travelled to the US and the UK to promote foreign direct investment and forge vital trade and tourism links in the United States, London and Dublin.
“Attending the St Patrick’s Day celebrations as a guest of President Barack Obama in Washington was an amazing experience. I felt deeply honoured to be there and was amazed at the goodwill and positivity about Derry and Strabane. I was delighted to have been given so many opportunities to showcase the region, tell our new story and promote our attributes across the globe and I look forward to building on those links that will bring about real investment and stronger international relations moving forward.”
Campaigning for the future of Magee and greater investment in our infrastructure including our road and rail network, and progress in air route development including the abolition of APD have also featured high on the Mayor’s agenda during her year in office. The Mayor took the lead role in pursuing the Council’s bid to become the European Youth Capital for 2019 and is delighted the city has made it through to the final five. She thinks securing the title will have a huge impact on young people in the region.
Working alongside officers at the Council, Elisha has seen at first hand the huge amount of work being done by the new Derry City and Strabane District Council to provide essential services as well as invest in its infrastructure, services and events.
“There is a lot of really good work being done on the ground to improve services and invest in a better future for the public. The Council’s Community Plan will improve the quality of life of all as it works to address the unique social, economic and environment issues and looks at the needs and challenges we face. As part of the Community Planning process I have headed up the group that has worked to source funding for the Foyle Haven and been involved in the establishment of the Civic Health Forum, which I am delighted to say is at the business case stage to develop a Crisis Centre for the city.
“I really enjoyed being part of the many Council events that were organised throughout the year including the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, the Strabane Summer Jamm and of course the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival. I am a bit gutted that I will miss out on being part of the Foyle Maritime Festival and welcoming the Clipper Round the World Race yachts as they sail up the river to a hero’s welcome. But I will be there with Declan and the boys cheering them on.”
Looking ahead Elisha says while she will miss the daily routine of Mal or Ben picking her up in the mayoral car and travelling across the Council district to cut a ribbon, make a speech and get her photograph taken, it’s the simple things like picking up the boys from school, going for a walk in the park or chilling out in the garden, that she is most looking forward to.
Extending her warmest thanks to everyone she has met during her Mayoral year, Elisha says she has been overwhelmed by the kindness and sincerity of the public. She also thanked her support staff at the Council, especially her drivers, the Guildhall staff and the Mayoral office staff, with a special note of thanks to her family for their help and support.
“Without the help of my husband, children, mother, father, sisters and brother, my mother-in-law, sister’s-in-law, Auntie Sada, neighbours and friends, I could not have got through the past year. They have been with me through it all and I am eternally grateful. It’s time to rest up and take it easy and pass on the honour to the new incoming Mayor,” she concluded.