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Friday, December 1, 2023

Women’s rights champion and ‘Reclaim the Night’ pioneer becomes lord mayor

One of Leeds’ most active and respected women’s rights champions has been appointed Leeds’ new lord mayor.

Al Garthwaite will assume the ceremonial role for the next 12 months, raising money for charity and highlighting good causes and community groups across the city.

Councillor Garthwaite, who has represented the Headingley and Hyde Park ward for Labour since 2016, is well-known as one of Leeds’ most passionate  advocates for women.

She helped organise the ‘Reclaim the Night’ protests in the city in 1977, which were a response to police advising women to avoid public places after dark, while Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe remained at large.

In the 1980s she protested at Greenham Common, where the then-government wanted to store nuclear weapons, and against Section 28, which banned the teaching of homosexuality in schools.

As lord mayor, Councillor Garthwaite will fundraise for the Women’s Counselling Therapy Service, which is based in Leeds.

The service offers free or low-cost help to disadvantaged women and girls who’ve experienced abuse, neglect, violence.

Speaking before the council’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, at which she was appointed, Councillor Garthwaite said: “I’m very honoured to take on the role. I want to do my best for all the people of Leeds and really promote it as a great place to live, work and visit.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting groups, organisations and events in Leeds and especially visiting those that I don’t already know about.

“I hope I can help them by getting them more publicity for the great work they undoubtedly do.”

Councillor Garthwaite takes over as Leeds’ 129th lord mayor from predecessor Bob Gettings, who will now return to full-time ward councillor duties in Morley.

And while most mayors have a permanent consort to accompany them to civic events, Councillor Garthwaite has put a new twist on the role.

A roster of students from Leeds Beckett University will join her on official mayoral duties, although her friend and former city councillor Angela Gabriel will also act as consort on occasion.

Councillor Garthwaite said she hoped the move would help get young adults interested in local politics and help them “get to know” Leeds, if they’re not from the city originally.

 The role of Leeds’ lord mayor is civic and ceremonial and is not to be confused with that of the West Yorkshire mayor, which is elected and holds regional powers.

Nonetheless it remains a prestigious job, and among the lord mayor’s other duties is to chair meetings of full council and act as Leeds’ first citizen.

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