No place like Frome: being a mayoress

Student Life

My name is Maddy Herbert and I study French and Linguistics at St Peter’s. As well as this, I am the Mayoress of Frome, a town with around 30,000 inhabitants, in Somerset. My boyfriend, Dickon Moore, was elected as an independent town councillor in 2011, along with 10 other independents, who together decided to run Frome Town Council without recourse to unnecessary party politics. Then last year, Dickon was chosen from the councillors to be the Mayor of the town from 2013 – 2014, and at 22, the youngest Mayor ever in Somerset. And what a year it has been; at once full, fast and fun…

On Wednesday, 22nd May 2013, I jumped on a train from Oxford to Frome and rushed over to the Assembly Rooms to watch Dickon chain-up and chair his first council meeting in his new role. Afterwards, we both stood and chatted in the pub, ready and waiting for the year ahead, excited smiles spreading across our faces and chains hanging from our necks with a new heaviness which would soon fade as our necks grew familiar to their civic weight.

Since I had imminently to hurry back to Oxford to prepare for and sit my first-year exams, I only began to properly go to events with Dickon in the summer holidays, beginning with the Frome Festival.

The festival is a week-long programme of musical, cultural, theatrical and creative events and workshops which happens in the town every year. Dickon and I really made the most of the festival; we went to a different event every evening of the week, including African Music on the ECOS stones at the Merlin, a community production of Under Milkwood (with appearances from my Mum, Dad and little brother), music evenings in the Olive Tree and the Granary, and as usual, the food feast, which is definitely a highlight of the Frome calendar year on year. I love the collaborative happiness and friendliness which is instilled at Frome’s community events and whose essence can be felt in the town all year round. This time, Dickon insisted that he and I should dress up, so I headed down to Bath Theatrical Costume Hire (who were very helpful, if a bit bemused) and picked up a pink dress suit for myself and a suit and hat for Dickon. To clarify,we were meant to be Lady Penelope and Parker, Dickon hadn’t got too big for his boots and planned to start a dictatorship, despite what people say! We arrived at the Market Yard square on the tandem, trying not to catch too many heels as we headed over to the stage for Dickon to officially open the festival. This tandem would appear again at the Frome Carnival in September, when Dickon and I decorated a flag and put it on the back of the bike as we rode through the town with the procession.

The week after the festival, Dickon and I opened the new Emma Sheppard Daycare Centre, for people suffering from dementia. It was a wonderful day. It was a visit which combined may firsts; the first time that I really became aware of the status and respect which comes with being the Mayor, the first of many ribbon cuttings (and the first and last time we tried using a pair of scissors together – ribbon cutting, it turns out, is a solo job), the first meeting and greeting and the first delicious lunch eaten with new Frome friends. In my student hat, the most striking adjective associated with this lunch might be ‘free’, but I find that my different roles and their very different hats are separate in many ways. In fact I sometimes feel like I am leading a double life. My first and indeed lasting impression of that lunch was actually the joy of sharing food and time with people who were so excited to be doing so with us. We spent a few hours chatting with the guests and listening to their stories, as well as learning about the new centre from the care-givers who watched over. Dickon and I walked away in the sun and marvelled at this new role that Dickon had landed and how important he now was to so many people.

Despite the aforementioned division which I sometimes feel between my life in Frome and my life in Oxford, I have found that my friends at Uni have also been very excited about the unexpected title of my boyfriend. Besides his impressive role, Dickon is such a friendly and warm person anyway that he has built up quite a following in Oxford as well as in Frome. In fact, the reaction ‘THE MAYOR OF FROME’ gets when he enters a party in Oxford is often celebrity-worthy and beyond anything I could imagine for myself. He has built up quite a reputation, and some of his most loyal followers live in Oxford!

When people ask me whether it is hard work being Mayor and Mayoress, I often remark that it is Dickon who does the hard bit (chairing the town council, preparing for meetings, dealing with complaints…) and I just rock up for the engagements, attach myself to Dickon’s forearm, and have some fun. This is, however, not strictly true, and as well as writing some press releases about events, I have undertaken a few engagements alone. I have announced competition winners, opened a fête, and attended performances and events alone as Mayoress. Dickon always says that he enjoys
going to events even more when I am there to share it with him, and it is on these occasions when I really see what he means. I am so pleased that I have been able to share a lot of the experience with him, for both of our sakes.

Being the Mayor’s girlfriend; Mayoress of Frome is as much of a surprise to me as everyone I meet. A year is not long enough to grow accustomed or indifferent, and I still pinch myself from time to time, when I find myself at a civic dinner, or the opening of a new building, or meeting patients in the hospital on Christmas day, or shaking hands with Jenson Button. I feel so lucky to have been allowed the experiences I have had, and to have shared with Dickon this special year. There were naysayers, who did not think Dickon would be able to cope at such a young age, and I have had a few raised eyebrows after telling people Dickon and I are not married, but generally he has received a huge amount of support. I am proud of the reputation which Dickon has managed to accrue, both within Frome and beyond, thanks to his strong cheeriness, sensitivity, and goodwill, which he extends to all within his presence. Frome is a happy place at the moment, and long may it continue.

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