SW11 Literary Festival launch
On duty: Jane at last year's SW11 Literary Festival launch

Much as I’m a fan of directly elected mayors, I recognise they have one weakness: they can never, ever, compete with the civic value of the traditional mayor.

Tonight sees the annual change of Wandsworth’s mayor from Jane Cooper to Adrian Knowles, and the council and local press will mark this with their retrospectives.

I’ve known Jane for a long time, almost from the day I moved to London when she was akin to a surrogate aunt looking out for a bewildered northerner while he tried to find his way in the big city. It was typical of Jane that when she found out I was helping with elections in Battersea and then trekking all the way to Brent (where I first lived in London) each night she immediately offered her spare room. Although that might have been a device to eke even more work out of me!

That welcoming nature and generosity of spirit – matched with an uncanny knack of getting people to do things – made her an exceptional mayor.

Over the past year I’ve been incredibly grateful to her for hosting new business receptions – where some of the many new businesses that have started in the borough can come together, meet each other and get to know some of the people in the council that can help them.

It is also worth highlighting her ‘pins’; they are a civic thank-you to those that give their own time to enrich their local community. Given to those who have undertaken some voluntary work within the borough, Jane has managed to recognise and thank 2,500 people who all help make Wandsworth the brighter borough. I’m sure Jane would be the first to admit that this only scratches the surface of the enormous amount of voluntary work in the borough and I hope that it’s an innovation that continues for many mayors to come.

Finally, I understand her year has been a record-breaker for the mayoral charities St George’s Hospital Charity and Age UK Wandsworth. Two charities that will have a lasting legacy of Jane’s great mayoral year.

Adrian will be a great mayor for 2012–13, and for the Olympic and Jubilee celebrations, but he certainly has a hard act to follow.

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