Oldham’s new mayor says he will use his own allowance as part of a fund awarding up to £500 each to ‘deserving’ residents in the borough.
Councillor Zahid Chauhan, who represents Alexandra ward, and has served on the council since 2013, has been handed the Mayoral chains of office for the coming year. He takes over from the retiring Mayor Elaine Garry, who has also now stepped down as a councillor in Failsworth West.
In a break from tradition, Coun Chauhan has opted not to raise money for mayoral charities – instead, he is launching a special fund which aims to give back directly to the people of Oldham. Through the ‘Truly Wished’ fund, which will go live in June, people across the borough will be invited to nominate someone they know, who they think deserves to have a wish granted.
Coun Chauhan said this could be as small as something as getting a bike for someone who would not otherwise be able to afford one.
Every nomination must explain why the person was nominated, what their wish would be and how it would make a difference to that person’s life.
Examples could include someone who has raised a large amount for charity, a person who is really struggling and is deserving of a long overdue pick-me-up, or someone who cares for the needs of others before their own.
All wishes up to a maximum value of £500 will be eligible for consideration, with the final decision on which ones are granted being made by the Mayoral Committee – with no involvement from the Mayor himself.
Coun Chauhan is also donating his own Mayoral allowance of £16,495 to the cause, and he told his inaugural full council meeting they already have pledges of more than £30k made to the fund.
Addressing the chamber, Coun Chauhan said: “It is one of the greatest honours of my life to become the Mayor of Oldham and act as its first citizen.
“Oldham is a town and a borough built on hard work and innovation. We are fundamentally a place that cares, a place that looks after one another, a place filled with generous and kind hearted people.
“As I start my Mayoral year, I want to acknowledge that there is significant work to do. There are significant challenges that need addressing in Oldham.
“The last few years have been difficult in Oldham. My Mayoral year will fundamentally be about bringing people together across communities, across neighbourhoods and individual towns.
“I’m starting my Mayoral year by celebrating and giving voices to wonderful, diverse and creative people from Oldham. If you’re serving humanity – I want to know about you, I want to celebrate you.”
The time at the start of the meeting, which was previously used for prayer, will be used to ‘showcase’ the words and experiences of local people, he added.
“I hope this will not only shine a light on the gifts of our wonderful communities, but also focus us as public servants on the people we serve and their needs,” Coun Chauhan said.
Originally from Mirpur in Pakistan alongside his wife, Afsheen, the two both made their home in the borough after he completed his medical studies.
As well as being a member of Oldham council, Coun Chauhan also practices as a local GP and was officially recognised for his charitable work in supporting people who are homeless by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire Medal.
Two years later, he ran the world’s first Covid vaccination clinic for those dealing with homelessness, an approach which led to the prioritisation of people homeless across the UK and internationally.
Nominating Coun Chauhan as Mayor, returning council leader Arooj Shah said he was the ‘epitome of a dedicated public servant’.
“I can seriously think of no better person to take on the Mayoral role for this borough than Zahid,” she added. “Someone who has spent his life improving this town and the lives of the people who live here.
“Someone who can be relied upon to be a voice for those who are unable to speak up for themselves.”
The nomination was seconded by Conservative group leader Graham Sheldon, who said he had been a ‘well respected member of this council for ten years’. “His genuine care for residents and vulnerable people in the borough is plainly visible,” he told the meeting.
Liberal Democrat group leader Howard Sykes added they also offered their support for his nomination.