It was a fantastic privilege for me to take part in some of the virtual that took place last Saturday. Whilst Diwali does in fact fall on this upcoming Saturday, we normally run events like “Diwali on the Square” the week before, as we know that everybody is usually busy celebrating with family and friends on the special day itself. Despite the difficult circumstances that surrounded this year, it delights me to say that I was able to co-host “Diwali on the Screen” as we continue to use technology to help us carry on with our lives.
As we are in the midst of this second lockdown, I just want to say how much I appreciate everybody adhering to the lockdown restrictions. The news of a working vaccine is such a ray of hope, but we must not allow it to cause complacency.
As I write, cases of Covid-19 are still rising in the West Midlands, so we must all do our bit to ensure that we get the number of cases under control. I know that especially at this time of year you want nothing more than to be together – however I just want to thank you for your great sacrifice, as it is critical to ensuring that we get on top of this virus.
Perhaps it would be useful if I explain what the job as West Midlands Metro Mayor is, outline my role during the pandemic, and some of the things I have learned as a result about the remarkable region I serve.
As the figurehead of the West Midlands Combined Authority, it’s my job to pull the region’s communities together, encourage strategic thinking and attract inward investment.
The West Midlands is one of the UK’s most densely populated and diverse areas with a rich industrial heritage, combining the member areas of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Each of these has a distinct and proud identity, but they all share the same quiet confidence and innovative spirit which made our region the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
As Mayor, I have oversight over areas such as Transport, Housing and Skills but an equally important part of the role is to encourage and enable all of our areas to work together, as one voice, to get the very best deal from government and to attract investment.
This year, as we have faced the Covid-19 pandemic together, that unity has been more important than ever, and I have been working with the government to ensure local businesses and families have been getting financial support through the crisis, as well as supporting efforts to help health professionals fighting the infection.
My role has meant chairing a regular West Midlands Regional Economic Contingency Group, which unites business, community leaders and politicians to feed opinion directly to the government. Communication has been vital throughout the crisis, and I have also been leading a weekly media briefing for the regional press to keep everyone up to date on the latest pandemic figures and news.
It has been a tough year of balancing the need to defeat a deadly virus with concerns over the economic impact of the crisis, but I have been continually amazed by the reaction of our communities to the challenges we face.
During events like Diwali, the impact of social distancing and staying indoors is keenly felt by all of us – we miss our loved ones and the joys of celebrating together. However, I believe that it is important to remember that throughout this crisis, we have also seen the best of our communities. Volunteers have reached out to help those who are vulnerable or isolated and our diverse communities have rallied to support each other.
Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness. I believe that throughout this pandemic, we have seen plenty of examples of that – which I think is something that is certainly worth celebrating.
by Andy Street
Andy Street is the Metro Mayor for the West Midlands. This is the in a series of exclusive columns for ‘iGlobal’.
*To catch the West Midlands – Diwali in the Square special from DiwaliFest2020,