JLife’s Sarah Nelson speaks to the new Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Judith Chapman, about her political background and being the first Jewish female to take up the post.
When did you officially begin your work as the Lord Mayor of Leeds?
I was sworn in on 21st May, but first heard about the opportunity through the leader of the Leeds City Council Liberal Democrats, Councillor Stewart Golton. He called me up and informed me that a representative from our party was invited to the position and questioned whether I’d consider it. I had never even imagined the prospect of the job before and asked my husband Alan what he thought – it’s a huge commitment and I needed his backing. Once I had it, there was no hesitation in agreeing as it’s a huge honour. And my husband is also the official Lord Mayor’s Consort, attending official engagements with me.
What are your aims in the role?
I’m interested in adult social care issues and have chosen Specialist Autism Services as the Lord Mayor’s Charity which works for and with adults who are on the autism spectrum. As well as that, I want to look at mental health services across Leeds and see where I can lend my help.
I go to a lot of volunteer-related commitments too and recently attended a volunteer event at The MAZCC where I presented an award. I was speaking to Liz Bradbury of the LJWB who explained that without those people offering assistance, it would add significant cost onto the services. It’s important to give my support and encouragement where I can.
How are you finding it so far?
I’m still in the early stages – I haven’t held the post that long – but it’s wonderful. I didn’t know what to expect and everyone told me that I’d be tired, but I’m not as tired as I was when I was a councillor!
What have been your highlights?
The fact that being the Lord Mayor is so varied and diverse – there’s never any chance of me getting bored! One day’s itinerary can consist of such a wide range of things; from going to a school’s prize-giving to attending the Town Hall to hear 1,000 children sing. Recently, I set off the sky ride before going to The Zone’s We Are One event. And I got to go to the Queen’s Garden Party which was really memorable.
Have you encountered any challenges yet or do you expect to?
I’m sure I will but it has been relatively calm so far and I hope that everything will continue to run smoothly. On a bigger scale, it really depends on what happens across Leeds. If there are any disasters, my time and attention will be diverted that way.
How did you get involved in local politics?
I was born in Leeds and grew up here before moving to London when I first qualified as a teacher. I returned here just before my daughter was born and it was through my brother, Mark Harris, that I first got into politics.
When he was running for election I began distributing leaflets and helping him, and after that I continued helping others get selected too. Then one day somebody asked me whether I had ever thought about becoming directly involved in the process myself. A position became vacant in the Weetwood ward in 2006 which I stood for and was elected as a Liberal Democrat Leeds City Councillor.
I also chaired the Adult Social Care Scrutiny Board, and the Children’s and Families Scrutiny Board for over five years.
How does it feel to be the first Jewish female Lord Mayor of Leeds?
I’m delighted and feel that it’s great for the community. I’m strongly linked to it, including Sinai Synagogue which I previously chaired, and the LJWB.
But my role is all-inclusive and I’m looking forward to working with all sectors across Leeds. Everybody has been so welcoming and I’ll do what I can to help.