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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

'It's a great honour': Selby appoints UK's first mayor with learning disabilities

Date: 27/5/2015
Summary: Gavin Harding has been appointed as mayor for Selby, North Yorkshire, making him the UK’s first mayor with learning disabilities.

Harding, who was previously deputy mayor, is starting his second term as a Labour town councillor for Selby Northward, having increased his number of votes from 590 to 1,039. He was nominated as mayor by a fellow member of council, and then approved by the council as a whole. It is thought he is also the first UK councillor with learning disabilities.

He told the Guardian of his appointment: “I had to keep pinching myself, saying is this real ... it’s a great honour being mayor of Selby, my home town. It’s a big town in North Yorkshire with a great community and great people in it.”

Harding said that when he went into mainstream school in 1986 – one of only six people with learning disabilities to do so – it would have been “totally impossible” for someone with a learning disability to become mayor. He credited Valuing People, Labour’s 2001 strategy for people with learning disabilities, for turning things around.

Selby has a population of 14,350, and Harding will work on behalf of the residents, chair meetings of the town council and attend local functions. He said he wants to “make sure as chair of town council meetings that we act in the best interests of the public as much as we can and serve the community”. He says his priorities for the coming year are better policing, stopping police cuts and the relocation of the police station to council offices, attracting a different range of shops into Selby and having more facilities for young people.

Harding is also a prominent expert by experience in the social care sector, having worked with the Care Quality Commission and co-chaired the Winterbourne View transforming care board with former care minister Norman Lamb. In June 2014, he was made an MBE for his work representing people with learning disabilities.

When asked if he thought his achievements would inspire more people with learning disabilities to become councillors and mayors, Harding said “There is nothing stopping people with learning disabilities”. He said that experience of self-advocacy gives useful experience in representing people “but you’re not just representing people with learning disabilities, you’re representing everyone in [the] community”.

Stephen Shaw-Wright, who will serve as deputy mayor under Harding, said: “Gavin is a shining example of what can be achieved with the right support and encouragement. I hope more people can see that playing an active part in society should not be dictated to by what you are told you can do but by what you can achieve.”

One of Harding’s first engagements as mayor will be opening the Selby beer festival on 25 July. He hopes to achieve his lifelong dream of pulling a pint of beer, “something [I’ve] always fancied doing”.

Source The Guardian

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