Birmingham's new Lord Mayor on housing, unsung heroes and optimism for city's future

Birmingham new Lord Mayor, Cllr Ken Wood.
Birmingham new Lord Mayor, Cllr Ken Wood. -Credit:Birmingham Live/Nick Wilkinson

With his broad Scottish accent, the new Lord Mayor of Birmingham may not strike you as a born and bred Brummie on first impression. However, Ken Wood is someone extremely proud of being from the city and is excited to be its “flag waver” - despite financial woes at the council.

The roles of the politically neutral Lord Mayor include representing the Birmingham community at formal ceremonies and on both joyous and tragic occasions; supporting charities; welcoming dignitaries and chairing council meetings. Accompanied by wife Lady Mayoress Barbara Wood and mayoral dog Duncan, the new Lord Mayor spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting (LDR) service about his upbringing, why his heart bleeds for the younger generations and his optimism for the city’s future.

The past few months in particular have been a challenging time for Birmingham City Council - something that the new Lord Mayor touched upon during his speech in the council chamber yesterday, May 21. “Over the last 24 months, we’ve seen the city’s image go from riding the crest of the wave with the Commonwealth Games to being in the doldrums,” he said.

READ MORE: Birmingham’s new Lord Mayor takes up office amid hope for city’s future

“But while the media may remain preoccupied with headlines of doom and gloom, I know the citizens of Birmingham, the companies and various organisations of this great city are all doing their best to carry on as normal. That in itself is testament to the calibre of the people who call Birmingham home.”

Speaking to the LDR service in the Mayor’s Office the next day, he said: “The role [of Lord Mayor] is apolitical so I see my role as being the flag waver for Birmingham and to promote it to everybody. Regardless of what goes on in these four walls [of the council house], what goes on out there is important.

“You can see yourself, there’s still the buzz - that’s what it’s all about". Asked what he likes about the city, he said: “Friendliness - someone pointed out to me that if you go into a pub in Birmingham alone, it won’t take more than five minutes before someone’s talking to you. That’s what Birmingham is really, really good at - it’s friendly, it’s welcoming, I think a lot of people who live in Birmingham who haven’t been out of it don’t realise how good it is.

“It’s such a phenomenal city.”

New Lord Mayor Ken Wood during the ceremony on Tuesday, May 21.
New Lord Mayor Ken Wood during the ceremony on Tuesday, May 21. -Credit:Alexander Brock

Born in Birmingham, the Lord Mayor’s father was an engineer and former RAF technician while his mother worked at Fort Dunlop having moved down from Scotland to get married. When his parent’s marriage broke up, he was taken to Scotland where he was brought up by his mother along with his grandparents in a village near Edinburgh.

"It was a former shale mining village," he said. "Very much working class I suppose."

It was here that he grew up delivering milk for the local farmer and working on the farm during his school holidays to help out with the harvest. At 21 however, he embarked on a mission to try and find his father and his older brother in Birmingham and came for several visits.

It was on one of these visits that the Lord Mayor met his wife Barbara, who happened to live on the same street as his father in Selly Oak. As their relationship blossomed, he moved to Birmingham in 1982 and the city’s own ‘Ken and Barbie’ got married two years later.

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When it comes to his political career, the Lord Mayor also developed an interest in housing over the years, having previously served as Shadow Cabinet Member for Homes and Homelessness. Explaining how he became passionate about social and affordable homes, he said: “In Scotland, I was brought up in a council house.

“When I was brought up, there was no stigma attached to being in a council house. Yes, we knew there were people nearby who owned their own house - we were in a council house, so what.”

“Everybody deserves a roof,” he continued. “It’s got to be warm and dry, and I’m really passionate about it.

“You look at youngsters now trying to get on the housing ladder - without the bank of mum and dad, it’s virtually impossible unless you work in a really, really high paid job. My heart bleeds for them but certainly on social and affordable housing, there just needs to be more of it so people can have a home.”

Lord Mayor Ken Wood, Lady Mayoress Barbara Wood and mayoral dog Duncan
Lord Mayor Ken Wood, Lady Mayoress Barbara Wood and mayoral dog Duncan -Credit:Birmingham Live/Nick Wilkinson

Asked what he would like to focus on during his time as Lord Mayor, he continued that he wanted to find all the city’s “unsung heroes”. “We’ve heard that there’s so many people doing so many things that you never get to know about,” Lady Mayoress Barbara Wood added.

“It’s going to be interesting getting out and about and meeting different people - I’m really looking forward to it.”

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