We are meeting tonight amid extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.
Those two words: “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” are being used more and more in these times. They are not exaggerations.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered everything: the way we live our lives, the education of our children, the work of our voluntary and community sector, the way we access healthcare and the way we care for the most vulnerable.
Here, in Lambeth, we are experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow.
But, we also have reasons to be optimistic.
Because the way that the people of Lambeth – and the council which serves them – has responded has also been “extraordinary” and “unprecedented”.
We see charities mobilising to assist those most in need.
We see our council officers striving every sinew to help our communities through this storm.
We see councillors, carrying out their role as leaders with passion and commitment.
We see our NHS and schools’ colleagues working round the clock to keep people healthy and educated.
I want to pay tribute to each and every person who has worked so hard, in the face of so much difficulty and heartbreak.
This virus has spread world-wide.
It does not discriminate – it has impacted the highest in the land right through to the weakest, the most frail and the most alone.
It is disproportionately impacting BAME residents and those working on the front line in our hospitals and care homes.
It is showing clearly where the front-line is and how hard those working on that front line are having to work.
On behalf of the Borough of Lambeth, I pay tribute to every single person who has worked – and is working – so hard to support our people and communities through this time.
Even without covid-19, this Civic year has been a busy one.
I have been deeply proud and humbled to serve this borough as its First Citizen.
I have seen for myself the strength of community spirit that marks Lambeth as a special place in the eyes of every single person who has become a member of the UK and Lambeth family at each and every citizenship ceremony over which I have presided.
Every person who takes part in those ceremonies is passionate about Lambeth, is putting roots down in Lambeth and wants to make a difference in and for Lambeth.
All are welcome here.
That was one of my key messages over this last year: showcasing Lambeth as a warm, friendly, welcoming place.
Despite the coronavirus, that has not changed.
And, I believe, it never will.
As I review the last year, the events, ceremonies, open days, opening of new facilities and community shows, fun days and even Royal Garden Parties, I have been struck by the depth of solidarity and compassion for fellow men and women.
It is a sense of community and pride in place that runs deep.
I saw that for myself at so many community events and receptions.
I was deeply honoured to host Lambeth’s first Ramadan Iftar – and offer my sincerest wishes for all celebrating Ramadan this year. It will be different, but the spirit of care for the community and charity and support for those most in need, endures.
I was also deeply touched – and energised – by those representatives of the Windrush generation whom I met this year, including at a special reception for those who came to Lambeth on the Empire Windrush all those years ago and who have made our borough their home.
I thank them – and those working for them in their battle for justice – today.
I take pride too that Lambeth’s strength in diversity is a cause for celebration.
I was delighted to attend the opening of the UK’s first permanent rainbow crossing in Herne Hill.
Our LGBTQ community have every right to feel safe, to feel valued and to be a key piece in the marvellous jigsaw that is Lambeth’s diversity.
I believe that is strengthened yet further by my successor as Mayor making such a heart-felt and passionate commitment to LGBTQ rights and the rights of those living with HIV.
I salute his dedication and his awareness-raising of such an important subject.
There are far too many people and organisations to thank as I close my year as Mayor.
However, there are a few people who I do want to spend some time thanking.
To my colleagues Cllr. Donatus Anyanwu and Christopher Wellbelove, for representing the borough in my stead at different events around Lambeth. I am grateful for their support and advice throughout the year.
To my team in the Mayor’s Parlour, in Democratic Services, especially Mandy Plummer and Eddie, who has been a steadfast support each and every day – thank you.
To my fellow councillors – all of you here tonight and those who are not – thank you for your support and kindness.
To the officers at Lambeth council, who are showing their worth and commitment round-the-clock at this time of crisis. Thank you.
And, to my loving family and friends, who have brought me such joy and given such support, my heartfelt thanks.
And, finally, I want to thank everyone who has supported my two Mayoral charities this year – the Migration Museum and Lambeth Welcomes Refugees.
Both organisations embody the spirit of Lambeth and they demonstrate the value of people, working together, regardless of background, for the common good.
In doing so, I wish to place on record my thanks to all those at the Kia Oval and my recent guests at our fundraiser for their support, financial and otherwise.
I want to end by saying this.
These are dark days, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
If we maintain our resolve, and keep our sleeves rolled up and work together, I know that the best of Lambeth will win against this virus.
Covid-19 is a threat which humanity must face.
We are doing so, together.
We can beat it, together.
We can build an even better future here in Lambeth after this virus.
We can and will do it.