YOUNG people are forefront of the mind of Darlington’s latest mayor as he looks forward to a year in office.

The town’s dignitaries turned out in force last night (Thursday, May 15) to see Charles Johnson hand over the mayoral chains of office to Conservative councillor Gerald Lee at Darlington Town Hall.

Cllr Lee has been politically active since his youth, holding his Conservative values close to his heart even as a youngster growing up in the traditionally Labour-led mining village of Willington, County Durham.

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The 68-year-old takes the mayoral role following years of devoted service to his community as both a parish councillor and a ward councillor for Heighington and Coniscliffe.

A former engineering salesman and devoted family man, Councillor Lee has used his political roles to integrate himself in community life and prides himself on being approachable and available.

He said: “The most essential part of this is being part of the community I represent.

“One of the reasons I make myself so available is because my father once said the only time you see a councillor is when they’re knocking at your door for the vote.

“I hope, when I’m finished, that nobody can accuse me of that.”

The new mayor will use his role to bridge generation gaps and bring together people of all ages for the good of Darlington.

Pledging to make this year a celebration of youth, Councillor Lee will work with schools and community groups to promote the good work of the town’s young people.

He said: “Young people get a bad press and are portrayed badly to older generations.

“I want to reduce concern people have around teenagers by showcasing their accomplishments and showing everyone how good and how committed young people are.”

He has planned a number of projects involving young people, including town-wide poppy planting in commemoration of WWI and a concert at the end of his mayoral year featuring performances from Darlington youngsters.

The year will also see him partake in fundraising for chosen charities The Butterwick Hospice and The Phoenix House Recovery Centre, which helps injured service personnel in Catterick.

Describing himself as excited and hopeful for the year ahead, Councillor Lee said: “I’ve been very lucky and I am in a good position to give something back to society. As long as I am fit enough and capable enough, I will keep it up.”

The mayor will be supported in his role by wife, Ruth, and sons Gerald and Alexander.