After being elected as Greater Manchester’s first mayor, Andy Burnham faced leading Manchester in one of the darkest times in the city’s recent history. Elaine Bermitz spoke to the mayor about his few months in office and his hopes for the region’s future.
What is your impression of the Jewish community here in Manchester?
We are fortunate in Greater Manchester to live in a multicultural city region. Each of our different communities adds to the rich tapestry of our culture. The Jewish community is one of the most established groups across Greater Manchester, the people have given so much to the city region both culturally and economically. They are a foundation pillar of our Greater Manchester community.
Have you come into contact with the community during your campaign and your early days in office?
I have worked with Marc Levy from the Jewish Leadership Council during my campaign, as well as the CST, and I will continue on with this work as mayor. It is vital that Jewish people feel represented and protected in Greater Manchester. Antisemitism is sadly still an issue for many Jewish people in our society but as Mayor of Greater Manchester, I will raise awareness of the issue and work to tackle it head on.
How will you encourage Manchester’s reputation of being a multicultural city?
I think our people and our city’s reputation speaks for itself. Greater Manchester is a proud multicultural city region and our diversity shines through in all we do – our faith groups, arts and culture, shops and restaurants.
But it’s much deeper than that. In these past months I have seen our city region pull together in the darkest of circumstances following the attack on Manchester Arena. Because of our multicultural history and the good relations we have built over many years, we were able to stand together against those who would try and divide us. The emotion of the vigil, in particular, is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
You have had the most dramatic and testing start to your term in office. How was Manchester’s reaction to the Arena incident?
The attack on Manchester Arena was an attack on us all – our people and our very way of life. But in our grief we turned not to anger and hate, but to love and compassion.
Our emergency services are some of the best in the world, without a doubt. What we saw that night were men and women running towards danger without thought for themselves as they tried desperately to save lives. But it wasn’t just the emergency services, we must not forget the arena staff, the Northern Rail and Metrolink workers who rushed in to help those caught in the attack and were the very first on the scene.
That night, and in the days that followed, ordinary people stepped up to help in whatever way they could. Taxi drivers ferried families home; people opened up their houses to those who were stranded; and others showed their support through flowers and gifts at St Ann’s Square, or by donating to the Red Cross emergency fund set up for those affected by the attack.
That we found strength and unity in the wake of such a vicious, violent act is testament to the spirit and generosity of Greater Manchester and its people. And I couldn’t be prouder. This act of barbarism, designed to divide us, actually brought us closer together, and that says so much.
What makes Manchester stand out?
Greater Manchester’s greatest resource has to be its people. Our radical past continues to shape our city region and the people that live within it. Here is where the Industrial Revolution began, where the Suffragette movement found strength, and where education was first offered to all. We are resilient, creative, and not afraid to try something new. When we put our minds to it, there is nothing we can’t do and no challenge we can’t meet.
If you had unlimited ability to fix things, what would you most like to see in Manchester’s perfect future?
That’s a difficult one; I could say so many things! Right now, my perfect future would involve putting a roof over the head of everyone currently sleeping rough on the streets. But this isn’t a pipe dream; I know together we can make it happen. The homelessness fund I set up has already been inundated with generous donations and my team are issuing grants as fast as they can to those groups and organisations working to change people’s lives and help them get back on their feet.
On a more general note, it’s quite simple: I want to see everyone in Greater Manchester being able to get on in life, be healthy and happy. I want young people to be able to visualise a future for themselves and to get the skills they need to make it a reality. I want older people to feel happy, valued and able to contribute in their later years. I want our city region to be the best place in the world to grow up, the best place to live, work and get on in life and the best place to grow old, and my job is to make that happen.
A New Year Greeting from the mayor:
I would like to also wish all those celebrating Rosh Hashanah a good year!