‘It’s been an amazing year... I’ve loved every minute of it’: Graham Warke

When Mayor Graham Warke hands over the chain of office at Monday’s AGM at the Guildhall, it will mark the end of a fantastic twelve months for the Newbuildings-born elected representative who has made such an impact during his term of office. He writes here about how he has reached out to people across all communities, forming new friendships and bonds and, at the same time, making the Mayor’s office more accessible to everyone.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th June 2022, 10:09 am

My year as Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council has been phenomenal. I have loved every minute of it, writes Graham Warke.

When I hand over the chain at the AGM on Monday, I will do so with a pain in my heart. It has been an incredible honour and privilege to be Mayor and to represent the people of this fantastic city and district.

But all good things come to an end and it’s time for me to pass on the reins to someone else. I hope I have left a lasting impression and will be remembered as a Mayor that represented all the people of this Council area.

Mayor Graham Warke leads the annual St. Patrick's Day Spring Carnival through Derry city centre for the first time in two years. Picture Martin McKeown. 17.03.22

Being Mayor has given me an entirely new perspective on life and the role of Mayor and the level of work involved. My daily schedule was full-on.

Every day, including weekends, my diary was jam-packed with meetings and engagements around the clock. Once the Covid restrictions started to ease, the volume increased and I was delighted to be able to re-open the doors of the Guildhall and welcome in as many people as possible.

I was able to host engagements and meetings and travel across the Council area to visit towns and villages and meet with people from all communities and I am really grateful for that.

One of the many highlights of my Mayoral year has been seeing at first hand the level of community support and solidarity that exists here in this city and district and the amount of good work being done by people from all communities.

The people of this region are amazing; everyone is so kind and generous and I am eternally grateful for the friendship, hospitality and warm welcome I received everywhere I went this past year.

As we recover from the pandemic and return to a new way of life, I think we have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for.

We live in a wonderful place that has a bright and prosperous future ahead of it thanks to the City Deal funding package and wider strategic investment and regeneration plans that will transform this place and set it aside from others.

It is no doubt a very difficult time for many people, too, as we all struggle with the repercussions of the ongoing war in Ukraine and its impact on the economy, the price of fuel and the increasing cost of living that is having detrimental effects on people across all our communities.

It is imperative, therefore, that we continue to work towards achieving our goals to realising our full potential for investment, regeneration and economic success.

I don’t think there is a person in this city and district who hasn’t seen me on my various social media channels. To be honest, you couldn’t miss me. I have been everywhere!

Social media has been a great way of communicating with the public and giving them an insight into the Mayoral role. It has helped me to use my profile in a positive way to highlight local initiatives and charities and to help get important messages out to the public. It’s also been a lot of fun and I have really enjoyed the interaction and commentary.

My biggest and proudest achievement has to be the work I have done supporting all charities and, in particular, my own Mayoral Charity, the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, and raising over £50,000 during the Mayoral year.

They are an amazing bunch of people and I can’t thank them enough for their support.

I sincerely hope the money raised will assist them in the fantastic work they do. I would also like to thank everyone who donated throughout the year to the charity at various events such as the Supercar Sundays, the Bear Run 74 events, World Down Syndrome Day and the Mayor’s Christmas charity event at the Everglades. Particularly at a time when money is scarce and there are so many good causes out there. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I was also very privileged to lend my support to so many initiatives and projects throughout the year and to turn the Guildhall clockface and Council offices various colours in support of many charities and causes. There are too many to name but all of them were important and it was an excellent way of showing support and raising awareness across the Council area.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting community and voluntary groupings, church leaders, those involved in the education, health and business sectors and representatives from various sports clubs and charities as well as hosting receptions and photocalls for local GAA and football teams, hockey, cricket and golf clubs and Olympians.

I was over the moon to see a return of festivals, events and live music concerts during my Mayoral year and was delighted to take part in the fantastic Halloween festival, the Christmas Switch Ons, the Illuminate Festival and the St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival. It is fantastic to see crowds back out on our streets enjoying themselves and celebrating all that is good about this city and district.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the commitment and resilience of our local business community. I had the pleasure of seeing at first hand the fantastic business community on our doorstep and the work they put in to provide services and keep their businesses up and running despite the current financial difficulties.

They are a great bunch of people and it’s important we do all we can to support these local businesses as they are the backbone of this community and our economy.

While I didn’t get many opportunities to travel overseas this year, I did get to visit London and meet with the Lord Mayor of the City of London Corporation, Alderman Vincent Keaveny, who has very strong links with our region and is very supportive of the work we are doing and committed to further collaboration with us.

I really enjoyed being part of a series of international and cross border events including a virtual Golden Bridges Conference and a number of North West regional development meetings.

I was delighted to host An Taoiseach Micheal Martin and elected representatives from our neighbouring Council in Donegal at the Guildhall and to represent Council at the COP26 event in Scotland.

I had the pleasure of welcoming politicians and delegates from across the world including the United States, Sweden, France and Spain. I was hugely proud to represent the City and District in meeting members of the royal family including Prince William and Kate and Princess Anne.

It goes without saying, however, that the highlight of my Mayoral term has been meeting with young people and hearing their stories. I think they get a very negative profile when, in fact, the majority of young people are talented, creative and inspiring and we should be really proud of them.

I’ve really enjoyed visiting schools, colleges and youth clubs across the Council area and hearing at first-hand about the work they are doing and their hopes and aspirations for the future.

It really highlights the need for all of us to do what we can to work together to ensure these young people get the life they deserve.

I will never forget my year as Mayor and leave with great memories of this experience. I would like to acknowledge all the staff at Council, particularly the staff at the Mayor’s Office and my two drivers, who were always on hand to offer help and guidance. I also want to acknowledge all the support I received from Councillors in the Council chamber.

But, most importantly, I want to say a sincere thanks and appreciation to all my family - in particular my mother, Jeanette, and my beloved children, Katelyn and Ollie, who have done me proud and supported me throughout the year.

I would like to wish my successor all the very best in her new role and look forward to working with her and all the elected representatives as we continue our journey at Council to work together for a better future.

I am going to take some time off over the coming weeks to refresh and spend much needed time with the family before returning to serving the public as an elected representative.

Thanks again to every single person across this Council area for your continued support and well wishes. I will not forget it.