THE newly-elected Mayor of Darlington has pledged to strive to bring the borough’s residents back together and make the community more inclusive as town moves out of Covid-19 restrictions.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, who has served on Darlington Borough Council for 18 years, told how her father had been blinded in an indiscriminate racial attack as she revealed the theme for her Mayoral year would be to build a more inclusive and united community.

Cllr Hughes was speaking during the annual mayor-making ceremony, a tradition that has continued since railway owner and peace campaigner Henry Pease became the role’s first incumbent when the town was granted a Royal Charter in 1867.

The occasion, staged in the gym hall at the Dolphin Centre saw elements of the ceremony stripped back due to social distancing requirements. Following a Government decision to force councils to hold meetings in public, rather than online, so democracy can be seen and heard to be done, the event was also the first meeting of the council for some 14 months. However, the purpose of holding the meeting in public appeared to be undermined as it was largely inaudible to those listening in the public gallery.

Councillors expressed concern over the sound system failure following the meeting, saying it was vital the public could hear council proceedings.

After the meeting, a council spokesman said efforts had been made so the proceedings could be heard, but the hall’s acoustics had led to the sound issues. He said the sound system would be reviewed and a video of the meeting available on the council’s YouTube page.

The ceremony featured numerous speeches, including ones by the Lord Lieutenant of Durham Sue Snowdon, the leader of the council, Councillor Heather Scott and opposition leader Councillor Stephen Harker.

Outgoing mayor, Councillor Chris McEwan said like many people during the pandemic he had sought to adapt and improvise in the role.

Cllr McEwan he had been determined to recognise and thank “Lockdown Heroes” who supported town through the challenges. He said: “Darlington’s response to the pandemic has seen the best in individuals and organisations emerge .”

The long-serving member for Haughton and Springfield said despite the restrictions of the pandemic, he had been determined to maintain tradition where he could.

Following tradition, Cllr Hughes told the meeting about how she had become Darlington’s first citizen, having been raised in a multi-racial city in New Jersey, saying her father had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when rioters had thrown bricks and blinded him.

She said: “During the last 14 months, all of us have been forced to live our lives in a radically different way. The virus has shocked us into a recognition of just how fragile our world is. However, it is also reminding us what really matters – our health, our community spirit and our solidarity.”

Cllr Hughes, who has selected St Teresa’s Hospice and Darlington Mind as Mayor’s charities for the year, said her theme for the office would be building “a more united, inclusive and resilient Darlington”, adding: “Darlington people have risen to the challenge of this pandemic. It’s now our job to rise above past difference and build a better future for everyone who calls this place home.”