‘Historic’ first Northampton Town Council meeting elects its first mayor and deputy mayor

The first annual meeting of the country’s largest town council appointed councillor Rufia Ashraf as town mayor and councillor Dennis Meredith as deputy town mayor

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 1:26 pm

The first meeting of the 25 newly elected Northampton town councillors has elected its first town mayor and deputy town mayor for the coming year.

The ‘Mayor Making Ceremony’, which took place on Monday (May 17) saw the appointment of councillor Rufia Ashraf (Lab) of St James ward as Northampton Town Mayor and councillor Dennis Meredith (Lib Dem) of the Talavera ward as Deputy Town Mayor.

Mayor of Northampton, Councillor Rufia Ashraf, said: “I am very proud to be the first Bangladeshi Muslim woman to be elected town mayor.

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Northampton Town Mayor Councillor Ashraf (left) and Deputy Town Mayor Councillor Dennis Meredith (right).

“I would like to thank my family for their continued support and I would like to announce that Abu, my husband, will be acting as my town mayor’s consort.

“I am looking forward to the year ahead. I am also looking forward to Councillor Meredith supporting me through my mayoralty and I’d also like to mention there are lots of campaigns coming up, lots of litter picks and outdoor activities, which you will all have to join in and I am hoping that this will include everyone so this is going to be absolutely a new year for everyone.”

Councillor Ashraf announced that her chosen charity to support this year is the Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service (NDAS), which helps and supports domestic abuse victims in the county.

She added: “I am raising funds for this valuable service and I hope everyone will dig deep and support this cause. It is very much needed. Thank you again for the honour you have given me and I will be doing my utmost to preserve the traditions of this historic office.”

Northampton Town Mayor, Councillor Rufia Ashraf.

The motion to elect councillor Ashraf as the town mayor was proposed by councillor Jane Birch (Lab) and seconded by councillor Jamie Lane (Con).

Councillor Lane described Rufia as “very hardworking”, a “media darling” and “a champion in St James in keeping it clean.” He said: “There’s only a few councillors I would class as friends of overview and scrutiny and Rufia is one of them. She understood what overview and scrutiny was about, she was hardworking and she knew her stuff.”

He commended her work in overview and scrutiny, which saw her tackle issues in the town including poverty, parking, anti-social behaviour, homelessness and much more.

Councillor Lane continued: “Through her commitment to her ward work and her very hard work on overview and scrutiny, Rufia has made a huge difference to this town and has been elected to the office of mayor on merit.”

The Mayor Making Ceremony also saw the appointment of Dennis Meredith as Deputy Town Mayor. This motion was proposed by councillor Mike Hallam (Con) and seconded by councillor Jane Birch (Lab).

Councillor Mike Hallam started by saying he was “very pleased” to see the tradition of cross-party proposers and seconders was being upheld by councillor Ashraf because he believes that mayoralty is “beyond party politics”.

Councillor Hallam, in his proposal, described councillor Meredith as a “political fighter”. He said: “When I first met Dennis, we weren’t actually very friendly at all because we used to enjoy a ‘Punch and Judy’ style argument across the County Council chamber!

“It wasn’t until I was elected to the Borough Council and worked with Dennis on various scrutiny committee meetings that we started to become friendly and I think it’s because I realised Dennis always put people before party politics.

“He would relish helping individual residents and he would always have a big pile of case work that he needed to address and would often be seen at the front of the Guildhall talking to residents before going in to the one stop shop.”

Councillor Meredith, who has been a councillor for over 15 years, battled coronavirus late last year and nearly succumbed to the disease after he also developed pneumonia. He attributed his recovery to the “fantastic NHS”.

At the West Northamptonshire election count on May 7, he talked to the Chronicle & Echo about his nomination to be Deputy Mayor. He said: “I am a little bit anxious because I would like to be mayor and, if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be sad because on the eastern side of the town - which I represent - I don’t think the people who live in that area have a fair share of the facilities. It is only recently they are building new houses and regenerating the area.

“For me - a working class boy who was in a children’s home for some time - to become mayor, that would be a great honour.”

The new town council was set up as part of the local government review for Northamptonshire, which saw Northampton Borough Council abolished after 47 years on March 31.

The Labour party took control of Northampton Town Council at its first ever election count on May 8. The council, which is the largest of its kind in the whole of England, will be responsible for a range of services that the new unitary authority - West Northamptonshire Council - does not oversee such as allotments, cemeteries and the mayoralty.