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The Mayor of Southwark

Mayor Kath Whittam

The Mayor of Southwark and The Civic Office are the council's chief custodians of civic pride and its champions of community cohesion. 

This is very much in keeping with Southwark's position as 'London's most historic borough' and our proven reputation for promoting good relations between residents of every background. We also support others in the council and the community to do likewise - to celebrate all that is good about life in Southwark.

Like most London boroughs the mayoralty in Southwark is representational by nature. This means that the Mayor holds no executive powers and the office of Mayor is fundamentally apolitical, neutral, and independent. This is one of its greatest strengths and means that the Mayor can represent all sections of the community as First Citizen without fear or favour.

At the same time the office of Mayor carries its own unique set of rights and historic entitlements. For example, the Mayor of a borough has long been recognised as being second only to Royalty and to the Queen's Deputy, the Lord Lieutenant or the Representative Deputy Lieutenant.

This means that the Mayor has unlimited rights to precedence in the borough and is always afforded due dignity and respect as the most important person in attendance at public events, save those where a member of The Royal Family and Her Majesty's Deputy is present. For civic events within the borough boundaries where the Queen's Deputy is present, but not a member of the Royal Family, the Mayor enjoys precedence over all as First Citizen. 

Cllr Kath Whittam was elected Mayor and Cllr Charlie Smith was appointed as Deputy Mayor in a unique civic celebration at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 14 May 2016, incorporating The Southwark Civic Awards , Annual Meeting of the Council (incorporating the election and installation of the new mayor of Southwark), and the Honorary Freedom of Southwark.

Profile of The Mayor 

Councillor Kath Whittam was born in Lancashire and grew up in Marple, South Manchester. After completing her secondary education she studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Bradford and later taught for sixteen years at schools in Dagenham, Newham, Essex, Lambeth and Southwark.

In 1987 she moved to live in Southwark where she married Dr Julian Holmes at Walworth Road Registry Office in 1989, with their wedding reception in the Civic Centre above the library on Albion Street. Their two children, Ruth and Lucy, were born in 1998 and 2001. When the children were small she worked for Southwark Young Carers Project, Surrey Docks Farm, the Institute of Conservation based in the Leathermarket, and at London Ambulance Service answering 999 calls.

The Mayor first stood as a Labour candidate in the local elections of 2006, the Rotherhithe by-election of 2008, the council election of 2010, and was elected a Ward Councillor for Rotherhithe in 2014 alongside the Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Stephanie Cryan, and Councillor Bill Williams. They were the first Labour Councillors to be elected for Rotherhithe ward since 1986. 

The Mayor has a long record as a community activist, serving as Chair of her Safer Neighbourhood Ward Panel, private residents' representative on the Canada Water Campaign Forum, and Chair of the Rotherhithe Under 5’s Group at Time and Talents. Her lifelong interest in the natural environment has seen her become a Friend of Lavender Pond and Russia Dock Woodland. She has also been a very active member of The Amicable Society working with other members on the conservation of the two historic statues standing proud above the old Free School in Rotherhithe to restore their paintwork and brighten their traditional ‘bluecoats’. Meanwhile her commitment to education has continued in her role as School Governor first at Redriff School, Bacons College as parent governor and now Albion Primary School.

The Mayor is a lover of animals and Southwark’s Animal Champion. She is a Provident Society member at Surrey Docks Farm. She has also served on the council's Education and Scrutiny Sub-Committee where she made a much valued contribution to developing the borough's autism strategy.

During her installation ceremony the Mayor announced that she had chosen two charities to benefit from her charity appeal for 2016/2017: The National Autistic Society and Surrey Docks Farm .

She also spoke of the privilege of becoming Mayor of London's most historic borough and of her intention to serve with humility: "It is a huge honour to be appointed Mayor of the borough I love, and which I am proud to call home. I hope to bring dignity and gravitas to the role without being too pompous". 

The Mayor's Consort is her husband, Dr Julian Holmes, and her Deputy Mayor is Councillor Charlie Smith whose Consort is his wife, Sue. 

Role of Mayor

The role of Mayor is a non political one and the Mayor represents the borough and every section of the community as First Citizen at hundreds of civic, ceremonial and social engagements throughout the year.

In addition the Mayor presides at meetings of the Council so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of Councillors and the interests of the community.  

The Mayor also hosts a series of civic events and public conversations over the course of the year and presides over a number of high profile civic ceremonial events including Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, VE Day, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Armed Forces Day.

The Civic Office

The mayor is supported in her role by a small civic team which advises the Mayor in her role as First Citizen and ambassador for the borough. The team also leads a comprehensive annual programme of civic engagement.

Over the course of the year we arrange a very varied programme of events and activities aimed at promoting community cohesion through civic engagement. These are in addition to the day to day diary of engagements carried out by the mayor or those deputising for her.

The civic office is also responsible for the organisation of an annual programme of civic ceremonial events including Mayor Making (May), the Southwark Civic Awards (May), Armed Forces Day (June), the Southwark Peace Breakfast (September), Remembrance and Armistice (November), and Holocaust Memorial Day (January).

We are also responsible for arranging special ceremonies where the borough's highest honour, The Honorary Freedom of Southwark, is presented. In addition we take care of all ceremonial arrangements for conferring the title of Honorary Alderman on councillors who have served two consecutive terms.

If you would like any further information or would like to invite the mayor to attend and speak at your event or activity, please contact the Civic Office:

The Mayor's Office: 020 7525 7303.

Forthcoming civic events (in addition to the daily round of mayoral engagements)

The Mayor of Southwark's diary

Southwark - London's Most Historic Borough

Southwark's status as ‘London's most historic borough’ comes from the fact that the original borough of Southwark was founded by King Alfred in 880 as one of thirty three fortified places in England to defend the population from the Viking assaults.  At that time the ruins of Roman ‘Londonium’ were occupied by a Viking army and did not come under Alfred’s control until 886. Therefore, Southwark as a ‘borough’ predates the ‘City of London’.  

The Southwark coat of arms 

Coat of arms


On 15 August 1966, the Herald's College made a Grant of Arms to Southwark and this is the coat of arms you see in any correspondence from the Mayor of Southwark and the civic office, and in all programmes or publicity material for civic events. 

The coat of arms is an amalgam of elements of the three constituent Metropolitan Boroughs' arms (Southwark Council, formally established in 1965, was preceded by The Old Metropolitan Boroughs of Camberwell, Bermondsey, and Southwark).

The two supporters on the coat of arms are an Elizabethan player dressed to play Hamlet to the left, indicating the theatrical heritage of the area and the Shakespearean connection with The Globe Theatre in Southwark, and the youth on the right side is the Esquire from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Chaucer's long poem follows the journey of a group of pilgrims from the Tabard Inn in Southwark to St Thomas à Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral).

The chequered band represents the three old boroughs of Camberwell, Bermondsey, and Southwark together. The colour combination is symbolic too. Green represents the historic, while gold stands for the modern. 

The well in the centre of the shield is a 'canting'* reference to Camberwell and the four cinquefoils* represent the Dulwich area of Camberwell. The cinquefoils, or stylised flowers, also appear in the coat of arms of Edward Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College and Alleyn's School. 

The ship on the top left refers to the maritime history of Bermondsey and was part of the Rotherhithe insignia. The rose on the right is from the Southwark arms where it represented St Saviour's parish (now incorporated into Southwark's Anglican Cathedral parish). The cross, into which the well and cinquefoils are placed, was a common feature of Southwark and Camberwell, representing their Christian roots.

The crest at the top comprises a diminuated oak tree and wheatsheaf bound together by a wavy silver and blue band. This symbolises the timber and food importing of the area - the wavy band indicating 'from overseas'.  

The motto on the borough coat of arms is United to Serve, reflecting the commitment of the three old boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell, and Southwark to work together as one, and the commitment of council staff and public representatives to do likewise today. 

The coat of arms may only be used by the Mayor, the Civic Office, and The Southwark Civic Association.

* Canting arms are heraldic bearings that represent the bearer's name in a visual pun or rebus. In this case the visual pun is simply that of a well for Camber-well. 

* A cinquefoil (from the French, meaning five-leaved) is a pattern in heraldry resembling a cinquefoil flower.  

The Southwark Civic Awards

Established in 1995, the awards aim to recognise excellence in active citizenship among all the communities within the London Borough of Southwark.

Seventeen individuals and projects were honoured at this year's awards ceremony on Saturday 14 May 2016 at Southwark Cathedral, SE1. Sixteen received a Liberty award and the Mayor's Special Award went to Shaun Dellenty and Inclusion For All.

Please contact The Mayor's Office on 020 7525 7303 or mayors.office@southwark.gov.uk for further details.

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