Monday, August 14, 2006

Annual General Meeting Speech - 17 May 2006

This is the verbatim speech I gave at the Annual Meeting of the Council earlier this year:

Lieutenant Colonel Morris, representing Her Majesty the Queen, Mr Sani, the Counsellor of Consular and Welfare from the Nigeria High Commission, my parents, Barrister and Mrs Alex Ajayi jp, Mayor Pipe, and other Members of the Council, Holders of the Freedom of the Borough, Citizens of Hackney, Officers of the Council and distinguished Guests.

I am deeply honoured and humbled to be elected as Speaker of the London Borough of Hackney. I give all the glory to God who has made this upliftment a reality. I am grateful to Members for their vote of confidence and for entrusting me with the Speakership for the coming municipal year. As Speaker, I will do my best to enhance civic pride and awareness and to fulfil my duties and responsibilities both to the Council and to the Borough.

There are many people to thank today, starting with my pastor.

I would not be standing here in front of you tonight were it not for a Sunday sermon given by Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo a few years ago, about 5 years ago now. Indeed the sermon was timely and thought provoking. He specifically spoke about how many of us get too focused with our daily routines that we tend to forget our responsibilities to our fellow neighbours and to the community at large. People oftentimes get into the habit of focusing on what’s wrong with the state of affairs, instead of trying to make a difference and working to make things right. So it was on that day that I decided to get involved in local government to affect change and to work for a better Hackney. Without the support of so many people, I wouldn't have been able to stay the course.

I wish to thank the outgoing Speaker, Cllr Linda Kelly for her hard work and dedication. It was good working with her.

The people of Haggerston Ward, that I serve, have put their confidence in me since 2002, and it has been a pleasure and privilege to be their representative.

My group who have given me immense support in the past, and I also want to thank them in advance for future support.

Other councillors of all parties who have given a friendly ear, and accorded me with much respect whilst I was Deputy Speaker.

The many officers who have been stalwarts of advice and support over the years.

I look around this room tonight, and I see not just my friends who have unfailingly stood by me, especially when times have been tough but also representatives from the various communities, organisations and the high commissions. I appreciate and thank you all for coming.

Last but by no means least, my family, particularly my parents who flew in from Nigeria, my brothers Drs Yomi & Akin Ajayi, and my sister Foluke and their families for their words of encouragement and love. My children – Joshua, Princess and Abisola for their understanding and support. As for my husband, Gbolahan, it is difficult to put into words, but without him by my side, showering me with much affection, I couldn’t have done what I have. I am delighted that he is going to be my Consort.
So how will I carry out the role as Speaker?

One of the tasks will be to chair Council meetings, starting with this one. I will do my best to encourage fair debate within the rules. If I do ever have to use my casting vote I can only say that I will do so after thinking over the matter carefully.

I want to set out some of the things that I want to do as Speaker. Perhaps a key word is "connect".

I want to be able to do what I can to support and encourage people in the voluntary sector. There are a large number of people involved in the voluntary sector, in organisations both large and small that are an essential part of the fabric of our community. Usually they are the unsung heroes and don't consider themselves to be important enough to be recognised. Well they are, and I hope that people here will spread the word to organisations that they know of.

I would like to open doors so that people can better “connect” with the civic and democratic life of the Borough. The obvious start is with the Town Hall. After all, the Town Hall belongs to the people and not a select few. I want to continue to promote a programme that would bring schools and community groups into the town hall and encourage people to find out about it and Hackney’s heritage, as well as modern day workings.

I very much want to be able to facilitate making links between young people of Hackney borough and the democratic process. I welcome the opportunity to visit schools throughout the borough over the course of the year and generally help young people have a voice that can be listened to.

Another contribution that I want to make is with people of other faiths, social and ethnic backgrounds. I am a practicing Christian and want to be able to play a part in building bridges and making peace. I have plans to hold a Thanksgiving Civic Service for the Borough in September. I would love to see representatives from other faiths and cultures and the Hackney community at the civic service. As Speaker, I will work to ensure that we continue to appreciate and celebrate each other’s differences by engaging with local groups throughout my Speakership.

And how will you all know what I am up to?

Well, I will be posting a blog. What is a blog, some might be saying? It is an on-line diary, and I will be giving a potted and personal view of what is happening in my Speaker life, along with pictures where available, demystifying the role of Speaker. It will be accessed through the Hackney website.

It is customary for an incoming Speaker to select local charities to support during the course of the year and I am sure you all want to know about my 2 charities. But before I talk to you about the charities I have selected, I would like to tell you about Mrs Eunice Omopenu Ajayi.

Nan, as I have always called her, was my grandmother. When I was a young girl growing up in Nigeria, my parents were busy studying and working to give us better quality of life; it was my grandmother — of blessed memory who looked after me with love, kindness, care and generosity. She played a big role in helping me to become the person I am today.

I am sure that many of you here tonight can identify with my story or know of an older person who has made an impact in your life. The elderly generation have contributed so much to our lives and our communities, and we have a duty and a responsibility to give back to them.
I am therefore nominating Age Concern Hackney and St Joseph’s Hospice to be the main recipients of funds raised during the course of the civic year for the Speaker’s Fund.

Age Concern Hackney promotes the well-being of older people and helps make later life fulfilling and enjoyable. St Joseph’s Hospice has, for over a century, offered compassionate, palliative care and other invaluable services for the Borough.

It is my sincere hope that we can all work together and do our part in supporting these two organisations who have given so much to our beloved Hackney. I would also like for all of you to take part in the civic events I plan on organising for the older people in our Borough.

Indeed, I was very lucky to have a grandmother who looked after me when I was a child and who encouraged me to broaden my horizons. Not all, children, however, have someone in their lives that helps them reach their full potential.

In my Speakership, I plan on engaging the youth of Hackney in various events and functions that nurture their skills and talents, expose them to new things, and provide them with opportunities to get their voices heard.

For over a year now, I have mentored some children from Blackstone Estate. During that time, I have taught them about citizenship, have taken them to church and, where possible, to functions I attended when I was Deputy Speaker. In that short period of time, I have personally witnessed growth in all of them. Some of the children will be singing for us tonight at the civic reception. So, I hope that we, as a community, continuously endeavour to nurture the youths of Hackney and afford them the opportunities that allow them to blossom.
If people want to make donations, to the Speakers’ charities, please contact the speakers’ office to make arrangement.

Much has changed in Hackney since I first moved here in the early 90s. We have come a long way in such a short period of time, and there is so much to be proud of.

Today, Hackney is a diverse, vibrant and exciting place to be, and I look forward to sharing what Hackney has to offer throughout London and beyond.

I hope this gives a flavour of some of the hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. I want to be able to serve and represent Hackney Borough, and play my part in bringing people together, so we can move, ­Forward as One.

At the end of this meeting, I invite Members and guests to follow me to the civic reception in the Assembly Rooms.

To the people of Hackney, thank you for this great honour. I have taken a year off work to devote myself to the position and serve the people of Hackney. It is a privilege to be your Speaker, and I promise you that I will do my utmost to fulfil the duties and responsibilities of the Speakership.

Thank you and God bless you.

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