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The start of 2024 - A time to mourn and a time to dance

Date: 23 January 2024
Author: Councillor Fiona Sacks
Title: Deputy Mayor

“To everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3) and so it has proved at the start of 2024. While tradition dictates that new year is a time for celebration this January has also been a time for heartfelt sorrow over the loss of dear friends and inspirational pillars of our community.  

As some of you will be aware, we lost two of our longest standing councillors just before the end of last year, Cllr Martin Elengorn and Cllr Geoffrey Samuel. While from different sides of the political divide, both were equally passionate about their wards (Teddington and Hampton North) and their various Council portfolios over the years from environment and planning (Martin) to education and finance (Geoffrey). They worked tirelessly for their constituents and incredibly, between them, gave the Borough over eighty years of public service. As Cllr Roberts, Council Leader, remarked “I doubt we shall see their like in the Chamber again.”

Not long after the loss of Martin and Geoffrey, came the very sad and news of the passing of Alan Benson MBE who was awarded the Freedom of the Borough in November 2022 - an award which dates to the Middle Ages when Freemen had commercial privileges and a route into a position of power in a town or city. Today it recognises eminent services of local people to their Borough. Alan made a massive contribution to the lives of disabled and older people. He was passionate about making transport accessible across the city and his achievements in that regard are simply too many to list. He also dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to our local independent-living charity Ruils. An inspirational campaigner, Alan leaves an enduring legacy through everything he has done to help make our borough and our city a fairer place.

A few days into 2024, we heard that our erstwhile Mayor (2001-2) and councillor for Mortlake and Barnes Ward, Eleanor Stanier, had passed on. She is an enormous loss to those who knew her and to the many, many people impacted by her work and commitment to the community. A vivacious force of nature, Eleanor gave over 10 years of service to the Borough taking a particular interest in Housing and Education. As one time Chair of Regulatory Committee, she secured the designation of Hampton Common which will protect it as open land for future generations – a lasting legacy. As I write, I am told we have also lost Gina MacKinney, former Mayor (1993-4) and councillor for Whitton. Described as a “fireball” by those who remember her she too will be deeply missed, and our thoughts and condolences go to her family and friends, as they do to those of Eleanor, Alan, Geoffrey and Martin.

Like many of us, I find New Year difficult. A natural time to reflect can trigger painful memories of friends and loved ones no longer with us. This year has clearly been no exception.  Bypassing the seasonal celebrations was not an option, however, as I was invited to represent our Borough at London’s New Year’s Day Parade. Whilst feeling immensely privileged, I also 'gulped' as the last time I was at the Parade was with my late parents. This time I was with Mayors from across London, known affectionately as 'the Chain Gang' and we got to lead the Parade in an open top bus down Piccadilly and Whitehall to Parliament Square. Despite the poignancy, I found it a really uplifting occasion and felt very honoured to be there. Our capital was at its most vibrant and exciting with over 10,000 performers from the UK and around the world showing off their considerable talents to a street audience of over 500,000 and an even larger TV audience.

Fundraising is an important part of these parades which have raised over £2m for London charities alone. The streets were full of colourful floats and costumes, marching bands, choirs, cheer leaders, acrobats, horses, classic cars, motorbikes doing stunts… and of course dancers. All celebrating New Year for a good cause and in the name of art, diversity, and life itself. I felt humbled by the efforts of performers, from across the globe and close to home, to entertain us and proud of our city for hosting the event so beautifully and peacefully. Given the Parade comes straight after the extravaganza of New Year’s Eve midnight fireworks, with people partying into the small hours, it was an outstanding feat of organisation. London is doing something right! I urge you to see the Parade for yourself. A sensory spectacle, it even made your badly coordinated Deputy Mayor feel like dancing!  



Back in York House, Twickenham, our seasonal festivities culminated with a fabulous 12th Night fundraising dinner with York House Society which is marking its centenary year. The Mayor was joined by representatives from her charities SEEN and Age UK Richmond, York House Society members and other guests and entertained to a wonderful evening of song including marvellous renditions of the traditional Boar’s Head Carol and 12 Days of Christmas. The celebrations ended with a delicious birthday cake. Many happy returns York House Society. Here’s to many more!

The following days walking through Barnes’ Leg O’Mutton Nature Reserve – one of our Borough’s precious wildlife sanctuaries which grew out of an old concrete reservoir which residents campaigned to save from development - I was amazed to see the hint of a bud on a tangle of brush and the first heron starting to build its nest with its sentinel partner looking out over the water.  I was suddenly reminded of a late summer’s day with Martin (Elengorn) - a day when coffee at his favourite haunt turned into lunch and more coffee, with constituents constantly dropping in for a chat and advice. A day full of laughter and stories, each more mischievous and fascinating than the last; when I learnt what it means to have soul and what it takes to be a good councillor far better than I ever could by pouring over Committee papers. A day which culminated with a tour of Martin’s treasured wild garden where he berated me for asking if he had planted some of its natural flora. A day when he impressed on me that if we give nature a chance it will produce far greater beauty than we could ever imagine.  

This new year has indeed been a time of sadness, yet it can also be a time when we celebrate what we already have as well as the immeasurable contribution of those special people who have gone before us. Hopefully as the year unfolds it will also be one of growth when we build on their legacy.  

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Updated: 26 January 2024