Meet the new Lord Mayor of Sheffield

“When I give tours of the Town Hall to children I tell them ‘anybody can be a Lord Mayor. I’m going to be Lord Mayor next year and Magid is one this year’. Anybody can be one if you just do what’s right and what’s good,” said councillor Tony Downing – Sheffield’s soon-to-be Lord Mayor.

By Molly Williams
Monday, 13 May, 2019, 12:44
New Lord Mayor of Sheffield Tony Downing. Picture Scott Merrylees

Coun Downing, 74, is preparing to don ceremonial robes and put on the gold chain as Magid steps down as a councillor.

He will be inaugurated this week after a year as deputy opening venues, welcoming royal family, marking significant moments, celebrating birthdays, garden parties and meeting with many people across the city.

New Lord Mayor of Sheffield Tony Downing. Picture Scott Merrylees

He was born in Devon and moved to the city aged 19 where he has lived ever since.

“It’s my adopted home,” he said. “It’s a wonderful city and I’ve loved Sheffield from the day I came here. There was never any fear of me going back down to where I came from and it’s grown on me even more.”

Tony, who now lives in Mosborough where he is a ward councillor, was a bus driver for 32 years and remembers ferrying ‘packed’ buses of steel workers before the industry collapsed and drove a bus in ‘every part of the city you can imagine’.

He was a union representative for fellow drivers before becoming a councillor seven years ago and worked as a cabinet adviser to a number of different portfolios.

“I’ve spoken to so many wonderful people and just love doing what I do. It’s been a great journey and I’ve loved every minute.”

In his rare moments of spare time he enjoys going out with his wife, five children and 10 grandchildren and three-year-old Welsh springer spaniel Lola.

The council will officially inaugurate him on Wednesday from 11.30am in the Town Hall when they will also say farewell to Magid.

Tony said: “Magid’s been great for the city. Every Lord Mayor is a hard act to follow, and Magid has run it how he sees fit and I think he’s had a wonderful year.

“He’s a young guy so he will appeal a lot to younger people and he’s been brilliant at that and I will obviously do it my way but I will always think of Magid as a very unique guy and he will always be remembered.”

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In a similar spirit to Magid’s lively inauguration, Tony was asked to either play a tune on a trumpet, which he learned growing up in the Salvation Army, or parachute into the Town Hall but joked: “I ain’t jumping out of no plane, boss.”

One of the toughest challenges with the role will be staying a-political, he said, but he is passionate that the city should continue to take more action on climate change, work to improve transport in the north and do more to connect young and old.

“I think we have to make sure the climate emergency is adhered to and I know the council is working hard on that.

“I would like to see the disconnect between the young and the old brought together and more schools going into dementia homes. It might even help with knife and gun crime as it’s not only the police who should deal with it, lots of agencies need to come together. It’s something we need to try to do.”

Every Lord Mayor gets to choose a number of charities which they will raise money for during their time in the role. Tony has chosen some that are close to his heart: Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where his daughter and grandson work, the Rochelle Baxter Fund, which supports people battling cancer, and the sea and marine cadets.

“Everyone has been touched by cancer or know someone who has and they do fantastic work at Weston Park,” he said.

He added: “I chose the sea cadets because it’s so important that young people feel they have somewhere where they can have fun, learn life skills and be aspirational but also prepare for the future.”

As the big day approaches Tony said he’s thrilled to get started.

“I’m really excited about this next coming year. I’ve not known anything as good in my life, except for having children, that’s been so lovely. All my family are over the moon too.

“I’m so blessed and pleased that I’ve been given this opportunity. I want to do as much as a I possibly can, even if I burn myself out by the end of the year.

“But at the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about the chain and the people of Sheffield – even though I’m embracing it and I love that fact I’m doing it it’s all about the role we play in representing the city.”