Mansfield's new Labour mayor Andy Abrahams says he will be more 'hands-on'

Mansfield's new mayor Andy Abrahams.
Mansfield's new mayor Andy Abrahams.

I have worked at your Chad for more than six years now and throughout that time there has been one consistent, The Mansfield Independent Forum running the council.

However, after this month’s local and mayoral elections, there is a new man at the top, a new party in fact, with Labour finally taking control of the mayoral office with the slimmest of majorities; two votes.

Andy Abrahams in conversation with Chad content editor Andy Done-Johnson.

Andy Abrahams in conversation with Chad content editor Andy Done-Johnson.

Andy Abrahams is a different political monster to his predecessors and is at pains to point out his approach will be more casual, more “hands-on” than either of his mayoral predecessors.

He also wants to make changes, he says, to invest in the district.

As part of that approach, he plans to donate a third of his salary – about £16,000 a year – to grassroots organisations, who will be able to apply for £500 in funding.

“It’s a community-based thing,” he says.

Mr Abrahams won by just two votes.

Mr Abrahams won by just two votes.

“It’s called the Mayor’s 500 Club, so effectively 30 per cent of my salary will create 32 opportunities.

“It’s about spreading the opportunities as wide as we can and letting people come forward.

“It could also act as a primer for additional funding for people with bigger ideas.”

Labour’s Andy Abrahams wins Mansfield mayoral race - by just two votes

He says his background – as a civil engineer and later as a maths teacher- makes him the right man for the job.

He started his engineering role with Ashfield District Council and went from lifting manhole covers to progression to senior levels, working on the Channel Tunnel and a major project at Heathrow Airport.

There was a “now or never moment”, as the father of four young children, where he stepped aside from his established career, enrolled on a teacher training course, and started again at the bottom.

Progressing to senior roles at a school in Nottingham, he then changed track again, to work for an organisation which educates young people excluded from mainstream education.

He says seeing both industry and education from the bottom to the top will help him with his new role.

He switched to teaching for the “greater good”, to help more people. And taking on the mayoral role is an extension of that.

“Everything sounds like a bit of a corny cliché,” he says, “but it’s a passion.

“You want to make a big difference to as many people’s lives as you can, so while I enjoyed my professional life, I always felt there was something more.

“Education is a challenging career, particularly secondary education, and I always worked in socially deprived areas where you were forever pushing as many as you could over that grade C line.

“Now I’ve got this position here, I see everything is joined up – it’s all part of one problem and you need to be able to solve it all to get a result in any one area.”

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He grew up in a council house on Mansfield’s Ladybrook estate and went to the former Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, “one of the few plucked out” to go on to further education and university.

One of his first engagements as mayor was a return to Queen Elizabeth’s, talking to youngsters about his role and his plans for the district.

“It’s was incredible going back to that place but now it’s completely different. They’ve been making great strides.

“When I was there, there was still corporal punishment, so that was quite a serious/amusing conversation I had with the headteacher.”

As part of his election campaign, Mr Abrahams has pledged to only use local contractors and suppliers “to keep money in the local economy”, although how this will factor in the current skills shortage in the area is unclear.

There is a commitment to building more housing – an additional 150 council or social homes in his first term – which he says will contribute to solving the town’s homelessness problem.

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Homelessness in Mansfield is a key concern, he says, an experience he has dealt with firsthand as a volunteer at the town’s Beacon Project, although he is keen to point out there is no quick fix to the issue.

“When you see how people live on the streets, it’s the hardest thing,” he says. “The whole structure of your life disintegrates and, as we’ve seen, it’s a big issue in Mansfield.

“It’s a consequence of many things that are happening, but I believe austerity and cuts are key contributors to the problem.

“There’s no immediate solution, but our teams already have a joined-up service, to problem solve, and I plan to build on that.”

There is also a pledge to combat rogue landlords and to rebuild communities to make them safe by employing more neighbourhood wardens.

There is also a commitment to a healthier Mansfield – the mayor wants to promote exercise “on our green spaces”, park runs at the weekend and other sporting activities, to reintroduce leisure facilities in Warsop and to create community allotments so we can all dig ourselves fit.

But health is not all about exercise; diet and healthy eating plays a key part as well.

And at a time when Mansfield is awash with fast-food outlets, at a time when there are two outstanding planning applications for more McDonald’s outlets in the district, it seems again that there is no “quick fix”.

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“I can’t comment on specific planning applications,” he says.

“I’m in week two of this job, but these are broader, wider issues, and for me it comes down to education.

“What I would like to achieve during my tenure is to build a relationship between the council and schools, making the most of our green spaces, park runs, tackling litter - you’ve got to engage with and change the mindset.

“You’ve got to target young people, really primary-aged children, and carry it through, so you reach the point where the people delivering fast food in the district have to change what they offer, because the demand has changed as well.”

There is also the issue of Labour’s strength on the district council. The Party may have snatched the elected mayor role, but it still lacks a majority on the authority.

Although Mr Abrahams can appoint his own cabinet members who, under the current system, can use “delegated powers” to set policy and make decisions, meaning only a fraction of decisions need to go to the floor of full council for rubber stamping.

But it would seem compromise may be needed in the years ahead. We shall see...