Belfast Telegraph

Nichola Mallon: Thanking our unsung heroes who have made real difference

By Nichola Mallon

It's hard to believe that next week I'll be taking off my mayoral chain for the last time. I fulfil my final engagement as Lord Mayor next Tuesday and it will be an emotional moment for me when it arrives.

The last 10 months have been incredible and an experience I will never forget. As a city, Belfast has come a long way. At times, though, many of us overlook, or take for granted, how much we have achieved.

As Lord Mayor, I have come to fully appreciate how transformed we are as a city. That is why my theme throughout my term as Lord Mayor has been Celebrating the Best of Belfast. And we certainly have much to celebrate.

I have been in every part of the city and what I have realised is that much of the heavy lifting required to transform our society has been, and continues to be, done by our unsung heroes; people who seem quite ordinary, but, in fact, are quietly doing quite extraordinary things for others.

Having the honour of meeting so many unsung heroes of all ages and from all backgrounds has, without question, been the highlight of my term in office.

On a daily basis, they exemplify Belfast's motto: "Pro tanto quid retribuamus" ("For so much what shall we repay in return").

On behalf of us all, I made it my priority to shine a light on their contribution and say thank you, because as a society we don't do it enough and if anyone deserves recognition and appreciation, they do.

Celebrating all that we have achieved is important, but I also believe it is important that we are honest about the challenges as a city we have yet to overcome.

This is why my other priority as Lord Mayor was highlighting the plight of, and reaching out to, our forgotten citizens; those on the margins who are struggling, in need and alone.

In reaching out as Lord Mayor to people who are homeless, recovering from addictions, or in prison, at the very least sends out a message that they are not forgotten.

By hosting a Christmas lunch for homeless individuals, a pancake party for young homeless families, or a dinner for asylum-seekers at the heart of City Hall, we are all reminded of the value of nurturing an inclusive and compassionate city.

Opening up City Hall, making it a more open and welcoming place for citizens of all ages, abilities and interests has been a key focus for me.

We've seen young people from right across the city boxing, hurling, playing Gaelic football, soccer and rugby on the front lawns. People of all ages have attended exercise classes. I have held indoor disability sports sessions, too.

Turning City Hall into a cinema for an evening and joining young people on bean bags with our popcorn was a joy to be part of. I even held a beach party in the grounds for families and, in true Belfast style, families didn't let a bit of rain dampen spirits. There has been something for everyone, I hope.

Looking back over the last 10 months, whatever the event, I saw people smiling and enjoying themselves.

The truth is that I, too, have been smiling every day thanks to the experience of being Lord Mayor of our great city.

I have moved from being a partial pessimist to an eternal optimist - and I have the people of Belfast to thank for that.

I hope my legacy will be that all of us will be Celebrating the Best of Belfast for many years to come and I hope that, in serving the people of Belfast, I have done them all proud.

Nichola Mallon is Lord Mayor of Belfast

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