Sunderland Mayor looks back on 23 years in politics

Penshaw Bowl 2014 - Mayor of Sunderland Bob Heron ready to roll his egg
Penshaw Bowl 2014 - Mayor of Sunderland Bob Heron ready to roll his egg
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OUTGOING Sunderland Mayor Bob Heron has today spoken of his pride at his achievements in Wearside politics over his 23-year career.

The 66-year-old lost his seat in the Copt Hill ward at last week’s local elections to Independent candidate Anthony Allen.

The Mayor fought back tears as he heard he came second in the count by just 75 votes.

Mr Heron, who was first elected as an Eppleton ward councillor – which later became Copt Hill – in 1991, says his biggest achievements have been working to bring his community together, fight crime and boost education levels on some of the more deprived estates.

After starting work as a labourer at Hawthorn Colliery, Mr Heron later became an apprentice fitter at Murton and Eppleton collieries. He then worked as a contract mechanic in factories around the North East and the Midlands.

Mr Heron first became involved in politics during the miners’ strike in the 1980s, but he had been a Labour and trade union supporter for many years before that.

He was elected onto Hetton Town Council, where he remains a member, in 1987, before he was elected to Sunderland City Council four years later.

For years, he worked alongside wife Juliana, 65, who was a councillor for the same ward. The pair have three children and two grandsons.

He said: “When I came onto the council, I wanted everything done ‘now’. I felt they did things too slow and wanted things done right then, rather than going through the rigmarole of processes we have to get through.

“We were going through big cuts during those first few years after the miners’ strike and a lot of other stuff. There was a whole broken community, with crime, burnt out cars and burglaries on many of our estates, and it was quite a long process to get some area grant funding from government.”

Mr Heron said that after organisations and groups joined forces to pull the community together, the area benefited from millions of pounds in grants.

He said the settlement for asylum seekers was recognised by the then Labour government, with the Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair visiting them personally. And he is proud of the community access point, which was set up with a crèche, to help young mums get qualifications, with some going on to achieve degrees and national diplomas.

He added: “It’s been hard work, with a lot of arguments going on at local, regional and national level, but we got the job done.”

Mr Heron will officially be Mayor until the annual council meeting on June 11, when his deputy Stuart Porthouse will take over the chains and a new deputy will be selected.

He said of his year in the role, during which Mrs Heron was his Mayoress: “It’s been absolutely brilliant. We’ve done many, many great things we would never have got to do. We’ve had some sad times as well, with funerals of former members, but a highlight has been school children coming into the Mayor’s parlour to visit.”

Mr Heron has yet to decide where his political future lies, but he remains busy with his roles on the town council, as governor at Bernard Gilpin and Gillas Lane primary schools and with the community allotments.

When asked whether he will be back at the next election, he added: “I’m going to take time out to recharge my batteries and decide then.”