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Deputy Mayor’s Blog: Togetherness

Date: 19 April 2024
Author: Councillor Fiona Sacks
Title: Deputy Mayor of Richmond upon Thames

Togetherness is a hugely important aspect of life. It unites us, gives us security, much needed support and a sense of belonging. It is something precious which I have felt strongly across the borough since becoming Deputy Mayor.

I think togetherness is part of what makes our borough special. It manifests itself in many ways – from the patient, determined commitment to build and sustain our local communities by our numerous voluntary organisations to our ever-growing and inclusive sporting activities, and to the long-lasting ties of national and international friendship which we have collectively forged over time.

It was certainly palpable at the aptly named Togetherness Charity Concert hosted by the Mayor and the Richmond in Europe Association (REA) recently at St Mary’s in Twickenham. REA promotes sporting, cultural and educational links across Europe and especially with our twinned towns of Fontainebleau in France (since 1977) and Konstanz in Germany (since 1983). The concert featured some fantastic classical pieces from Bach, Mozart and Strauss to Delibes, Massenet and Rossini, not forgetting composers closer to home like Dowland, Handel (who spent some time in Barnes) and Britten.  The inspirational soloists Regina Gossel, Clara Orif and Milette Gillow were accompanied by talented pianist Jack Redman. All have associations with the Royal Academy of Music. The various arias, songs and duets were beautifully sung in the languages in which they were originally written with translations provided and informative introductions given by Richard Jaggard from REA. The concert, which raised funds for the Mayor’s charities Age UK Richmond and SEEN, reflected the power of music to bring communities together. It was such a success it is hoped that another concert can be held next year as “an hors d’oeuvre” for the reaffirmation of the international partnerships between Richmond, Fontainebleau and Konstanz which will be celebrated right here in Richmond. I can’t wait!

Despite the obvious rivalry of the Boat Race, a feeling of fellowship and good humour were also very much on show on the riverbank on a sunny Easter Saturday. The Boat Race is a sporting tradition like no other - the epitome of amateur sport as well as being completely free to attend. How lucky we are that most of this historic race (this year, the Men’s 169th and the Women’s 78th) takes place in our borough! The atmosphere was positively festival like with thousands of fans cheering on their choice of blue from Putney to Mortlake. I had been lucky enough to attend the crew announcement beforehand and was thrilled to discover that local boy Seb Benzecry, who went to school in Barnes where he learned to row was now President of the Cambridge boat. The decision about who to support in the men’s race was clear for me this year, although I thought it only fair to support Oxford in the women’s race. On the day, the Mayor of Wandsworth kindly invited London Mayors, to watch the start from Putney Embankment. I felt especially proud and honoured to wear the Deputy Mayoral chains (originally the Barnes mayoral chains) with the Richmond Badge which has a Swan representing the river and….two blue oars representing the Boat Race. The Chain Gang, as London Mayors are affectionately known, were suitably impressed.

Togetherness and team spirit were certainly abundant at the 16th William Greaves Cricket Trophy Finals Day held at Lords Cricket Ground where I had the privilege to represent the borough as our very own East Sheen Primary did us proud by making it into the finals – a massive achievement! Organised by youth development charity, Capital Kids Cricket (CKC), the UK’s largest primary school indoor competition brings together children from state primary schools across 17 boroughs for five months of exciting, competitive cricket. It was wonderful to see so much enthusiasm and young talent on show. What I found especially inspiring was that a minimum of 4 girls were playing in every game accelerating the work already underway to make cricket more inclusive as well as helping to regenerate cricket in schools going forward. CKC runs many projects from women & girls’ cricket to hospital programmes, teams not gangs and refugee cricket. There is no doubt that sport, like music, can bring people together, helping participants and spectators alike feel part of a team.

Art draws people together too as I learned at the recent vibrant Easter Art Fair at the wonderful OSO Art Centre in Barnes, a charity that provides a unique space for people to enjoy and engage with arts through evening shows, daytime dance, painting and drama classes. The fair which was very well attended, showcased a fantastic array of paintings and sculpture from over thirty artists both local and from further afield. They included veteran abstract artist Sophie Ashdown Coady and her talented son AJ Coady, who, at just 14, uses a unique combination of colours and pigments to create beautiful ocean like pieces. Local Barnes resident, Jeremy Frearson, a member of Barnes Artists also exhibited his fabulous wood sculpture influenced by Barbara Hepworth (see here)  A lot of the wood Jeremy uses has been washed up by the river or comes from Barnes Common. When he sells anything from wood found on the Common, he kindly gives the conservation charity Barnes Common Ltd 10% of what gets. That’s what I call being community and environmentally minded!

As I mentioned earlier, togetherness can also be created by the quiet acts of kindness and support we give one another.  Volunteering and giving of our time freely is what forms the bedrock of our communities. This was clearly the case when I visited the wonderful Castelnau Community Centre recently. I presented a token of appreciation to long time volunteer, Vanessa Willis, who for decades has contributed so much of her time and energy to those in her neighbourhood by helping and then leading play groups, school clubs and over 50’s lunches, to name just a few of her roles. Vanessa is one of life’s givers and during my time as Deputy Mayor I have been truly humbled by people like Vanessa across the borough. It is “the givers” and volunteers in all walks of life who are the glue in our communities. They help us all to thrive and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. Interestingly, time and again those volunteering and actively creating togetherness have told me that they feel they receive back more than they give.   Perhaps, as Mahatma Ghandi said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

Being Deputy Mayor has been a huge privilege – I have seen and learned so much and enjoyed every precious moment of an unforgettable year. I am deeply indebted to the Mayor for her warmth, guidance and wisdom and to the people of Richmond upon Thames for their kindness and support throughout my term. What I’ll take away with me is a host of treasured memories of all the inspirational people I have met and what they taught me which is the motto on the Barnes mayoral badge – “not for ourselves alone”.

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Updated: 2 May 2024