As part of my marketing strategy to promote my copywriting & blogging business, I spend some of my time networking. As a result, I have met some wonderful people working in all sorts of businesses. With my innate interest in “all things business” I invited Stefan Gawrysiak, Mayor of Henley on Thames, to tell me his mayoral story. Here it is…
…And now for someone completely different! One sunny August morning, I found myself sitting in the Mayor’s Parlour in the Henley Town Hall, talking to the recently elected Mayor of Henley on Thames, Stefan Gawrysiak.
Stefan’s love of Henley on Thames and its extraordinary community was evident from the start. After 30 years’ service at Gillotts School, including many as Assistant Head Teacher, Stefan developed valuable relationships both inside and outside the school community. As a resident of Henley himself, he became involved in the Henley Bridge Rotary Club and supported many local voluntary groups.
When he retired in September 2011, he became a councillor for the Henley Residents Group (HRG). The HRG is a party made up of Henley residents looking to do their best for the town, and Stefan had been a supporter. Later on, he became Deputy Mayor and, in May 2013, he was elected Mayor of Henley on Thames.
When I met Stefan at the Town Hall, it was clear he was delighted and, in fact, honoured to be Mayor of our very special and brilliant little town. He has a genuine affection for Henley, and he is doing everything he can to be a good ambassador. His theme for the year is “Making a difference”.
It was fascinating to listen to him. Let me share some of the highlights of our conversation.
Stefan talked about…
Stefan has established a town council database of Henley’s voluntary organisations. Astonishingly, there are over 220 charitable and voluntary organisations within the Henley area – testament to the dedication and willingness of the Henley community to get involved. To coin a well-known marketing phrase, Henley is a great place “to work, rest and play”; businesses flourish and families thrive here.
Stefan recognises the brilliance of this community spirit and cited two examples of how small Henley “pockets” have worked together to enhance their own environments. The Gainsborough Estate wants to set up its own residents association; they have planted their own flowerbeds and restored a bus shelter, and there are other ideas in the pipeline. Walton Avenue residents would like to enhance their neighbourly relationships. One resident knocked on his neighbours’ doors one evening and invited everyone out for a pint at the Three Horseshoes. How’s that for an idea? From what Stefan told me, the impromptu sortie to the pub was a roaring success!
Stefan would love to see more stories such as these emerge from Henley’s community. Energy and initiatives emanating from the residents themselves is the best way to bring about positive changes.
The Henley “Experience”
Since Stefan became mayor in May 2013, he has made some notable changes to improve the Henley experience. He has brought regular music to the Mill Meadows’ bandstand over summer weekends, and plans are progressing for new and improved toilet facilities within the Leichlingen building. In addition, he has introduced two events to Henley that he is hopeful will become a regular feature in the Henley annual calendar. Both events are sustainable and have been designed to bind the Henley community together.
The first was a very successful community music festival at Mill Meadows in June 2013, showcasing over 100 local musicians. The free event, supported by local businesses and charities, attracted an audience of over 1200 people. The funds raised were fed back through a foundation to develop the musical skills of young local people.
The second is still to come… Strike up the band! The Mayor of Henley on Thames is hosting the Last Night of the Proms Concert on Saturday 7th September 2013 at St Mary’s Church. This fun, flag-waving, glorious event featuring the Henley Symphony Orchestra will incorporate the live second half broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall, with all proceeds going to Stefan’s chosen charities for Henley. A great idea and the first of its kind (outside London!)
Twinning with Bled
Twin towns are cooperative agreements between towns or cities in order to promote cultural and commercial ties; they’re about bringing people together. Henley has two very successful twinning relationships; one with Leichlingen and the other with Falaise. Stefan is working with the Slovenian Mayor of Bled, Janez Fajfar, to seal a twinning agreement between the two towns. Bled is a natural choice for twinning with Henley as it has a strong rowing heritage. When I met him, Stefan and his partner, the Mayoress Catherine Allan-Notaras, had recently returned from a cultural trip to Bled, where he had met with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. The next step is for rowers from Henley to participate in the Slovenian National Regatta, and this invitation will be reciprocated next year.
The Mayor’s Charities
As mayor, Stefan will be raising money for Age UK, the Chiltern Centre for the Disabled, Sue Ryder, Riverside Counselling Service and Headway, all of which provide wonderful support for Henley families. They also all have a special significance for Stefan, either stemming from his time at Gillotts or through his personal connections.
Looking ahead over the next few months, the mayor’s calendar includes Remembrance Sunday, the Mayor’s Civic Service, Christmas Shopping Night and the Over 60’s Christmas Lunch. As mayor, Stefan is automatically placed on a number of boards; he therefore attends council and non-council business meetings. He also receives numerous invitations to attend a variety of formal and informal functions, dinners and events, all of which he treats with equal alacrity. Between them, Stefan and the deputy mayor, Martin Akehurst, do their utmost to accept every invitation.
Stefan was given a fine tip from a previous mayor when he was elected in May: “Being mayor will take over your life for one year only. Enjoy every minute of it; it’s an experience you will never forget!” Stefan has taken these words to heart; it’s clear he is loving it and he is committed to doing everything he can to make a difference to Henley on Thames.
Getting in Touch
If you have any views on how the community or events within Henley could be improved, Stefan Gawrysiak, the Mayor of Henley on Thames, would love to hear from you. Please email him at Stefan.firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him via Twitter @HenleyMayor1.
Photos kindly supplied by Stefan Gawrysiak with full permission to reproduce.
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