Sarah Barber: Why being mayor of Ipswich is like being a favourite auntie
PUBLISHED: 06:00 14 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:00 16 May 2018
As Ipswich mayor Sarah Barber prepares to hand over the chain of office this week, local democracy reporter Jason Noble sat down with the popular nurse to find out how she found her busy year in office.
From hurling out of planes for parachute jumps and testing the bounce of a new trampoline park to overseeing elections and formal processions – its been something of an eclectic year for Sarah Barber.
And balancing the day job as a nurse at Ipswich Hospital all the while has been a new experience for the 46-year-old.
We caught up with her to uncover some of the myths around mayoral duties, what it’s like to where the chain of office and just why it’s like being a favourite auntie at a wedding.
How have you found the year?
“Really busy, but very enjoyable. It’s just been great.
“What I have really liked is having that chance to see so many people in Ipswich – and seeing all the voluntary work and the hard work people put into their communities, that’s been fantastic.
“You never quite realise how much people do, and it’s just real commitment on their part but makes a real difference to the people they do help.”
How was it balancing mayoral duties with your day job as an Ipswich Hospital nurse?
“I have got to give a massive thank you to my colleagues.
“The ones I worked with in my actual team – for them it had a really big impact, so if I left we don’t have loads of other staff.
“They were really interested, they just really enjoyed hearing about what I had been up to, and that my life so much easier I had the support of my colleagues.”
Did you get people in hospital recognising you as the mayor?
“Yeah I did, not loads but I did get people recognise me.
“What I found as the year went on is people would say ‘hi Sarah’ and I was desperately going through my brain that I recognised them but couldn’t place where from.”
Have you enjoyed interacting with the public?
“What’s lovely about being the mayor is people are always pleased to see you.
“It’s a bit like being a favourite auntie at a wedding – they have taken the trouble to invite you, they want you to be there and they are really pleased to see you, which you don’t get that with other roles.”
What is your proudest moment?
“I have been really pleased to help and support This Girl Can campaign in Ipswich and Suffolk, that’s been great.
“I was really pleased to be invited along to a couple of the concerts by the Ipswich Symphony Orchestra, which is an organisation I never knew existed before I became mayor.
“I was particularly honoured to get to meet Sheku Kanneh-Mason who is the young musician of the year 2016. He is playing at the royal wedding, so we can say Ipswich had him first. That was brilliant.
“But mainly it has been going to different events, supporting different organisations and being able to say thank you.
“Another thing I have really enjoyed is inviting people to the mayor’s parlour, that’s been great.
What is their reaction when they see the mayor’s parlour?
“It’s funny because some children ask if I live there. I always said no but now I am sort of regretting that and I should have said yes!
“What I am proud of is just being a woman being a mayor, and just raising the level of people’s awareness of women in politics. That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to be the mayor.”
Is inspiring women into politics important to you?
“Yeah I think if you don’t see people doing that role you don’t imagine yourself in there.
“I know we have the Queen and a female prime minister but that’s right at the top and there is all that other work politicians do.
“It’s not just the political figures in local government it’s the officers as well, we need more women working in local government.
“When I went to some things in the line up of dignitaries I was often the only woman, and I really hope that starts to change going forward.
“In some areas being a white middle class woman was a minority. I would like to see that change and I hope moving forward, not just in Ipswich but as a whole, I really hope that in the future that if the mayor is a woman she won’t be the only one standing there.”
What kind of mayor do you think Jane Riley will be?
“I think she’ll make a brilliant mayor. Everyone brings their own individual take on it, but I think Jane will be really good.
“That’s what is nice about the mayor changing every year – you get some variety and different emphasis on things.”
How did your husband Luke find being consort?
“He enjoyed it. I didn’t put any pressure on him to turn up to things if he couldn’t.
“He has been really supportive and he’s also learnt to cook a few more things – he can now do cottage pie and pasta bake, which has been great! It’s been really nice to have that support. I would also like to say thanks to the borough council employees, and in particular I would like to say thank you to Roger Fern for the support he has given me.”
What was the biggest challenge, balancing work?
“Yeah, there was a point where I started to understand why the mayor was often a retired person.
“But you do know it is a year and there is an end point to it. You commit yourself to that year, and that’s what I really tried to do – commit myself to being the mayor, I knew I had volunteered for the role, and sometimes when you volunteer for things you don’t know what to expect but I have worked really hard because I wanted to do a good job.
Lighthouse Women’s Aid, Families in Need and Ipswich Hospital were your chosen charities.
“It’s great because they are all organisations we are going to need if we are ever in trouble. It’s been really good to promote them, help support their fundraising and it’s been good to give them a little bit of a spotlight as well.
“One of my last visits I am doing as a mayor is at the mortuary at Ipswich Hospital. They are using their money to renovate the next of kin area for when someone has died. I think being the mayor you can raise awareness for those sorts of issues. When you have someone who has died and you see them in hospital, the environment you are in does stick with you. I am really pleased that some of the money raised has gone to help renovate that area so what people can concentrate on is their grief rather than having anything intrude upon them.”
Are the variety of things you do nice?
“Yeah, I think it’s good because you have the civic functions you fulfil as the mayor such as chairing full council, but you get to do other fun things as well. It is quite nice to have that variety.
“And some things you never expect to do either. If I hadn’t been the mayor of Ipswich I don’t think I ever would have volunteered to do the tandem parachute jump – never in a million years would I have agreed to do that.”
What are some of the ups and downs?
“An unexpected honour was being the returning officer.
“On the downside I’m really not good at singing hymns, and that hasn’t improved over the years! I’m also not that fond of Prosecco so I would ask for water. At the mayor’s ball I made a special plea for beer – this woman likes beer.”
What it is like wearing the chain?
“I never got used to that – it’s really quite heavy!”
What are your overall feelings as you look back on your year?
“I am going to feel proud of myself. I feel I have really tried hard and done the best job I could do.
“It’s also a massive thank you to the people of Ipswich because it has been a real honour to represent them on different occasions, and just for making me and Luke feel so welcome. My family have been really proud of me and that’s been lovely as well.”