Former mayor of Luton awarded MBE for leadership during Covid pandemic
Cllr Maria Lovell, 58, has been recognised for her "outstanding" leadership during the worst months of the coronavirus outbreak in Luton
A resident of Luton for over three decades, she has made a long and constant contribution to the town through her community and charity work.
She is also the first woman of Ghanian descent to be elected to the local authority.
Speaking to Luton News, Cllr Lovell said: "It's wonderful, it was so nice. I was shocked when I received the initial email because it was the first inkling I'd had that something like this was happening in the background.
"I had to read the email three times before it sunk in!
"My heart is in the community and working to promote our town. Despite the negatives, it's a very good place to live and the community spirit here is second to none.
"The timing has just been perfect."
Cllr Lovell's investiture as mayor of Luton took place in September 2020 in an online ceremony in unexpected circumstances.
The previous mayor, had resigned after breaking Covid guidelines by attending a garden party with two other Labour councillors, attracting negative headlines and anger from residents.
"It was a difficult time, when that happened," said Cllr Lovell.
"I remember having that phone call and my life changed quite dramatically.
"At the time, I'd been a councillor for less than three years and I felt I was still finding my feet.
"There was a lot of trust that we needed to gain back from the community and they're the people who we serve as leaders in the town.
"I dug deep into everything I'd done before and tried to make use of my experiences as a community leader. I've lived in Luton for 30 years and I'd had engagements with most parts of the town through my charity.
"It was a difficult year and there was no rule book to follow because we had not had a pandemic in this country in over a century."
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Cllr Lovell les several initiatives including support to the local foster care campaign.
Working with the organisation she founded in 2006, the Ghana Society, she also supported the elderly, vulnerable families, hostels and care home staff in Luton.
She has also worked with charities and helped distribute nearly £5,000 worth of food parcels.
Since 2017, she has partnered with World Child Cancer to fundraise more than £874,444 in 2019 to support child cancer and also raise awareness especially in rural towns in Ghana so children do not die unnecessarily.
Cllr Lovell is also a strong advocate of women's rights and she launched the Luton Women’s Network in March 2020, during which time she called on participants to champion the cause of human rights, challenge stereotypes and celebrate diversity.
She has also hosted the Annual Kente Festival since 2015. Kente is a traditional and symbolic Ghanaian cloth made up of interwoven cloth strips
Cllr Lovell's year as mayor ended in May, at which time Cllr Mahmood Hussain was appointed the new mayor.
Asked about what lessons had been learnt during the pandemic, Cllr Lovell said: "I would say that the truth mattered. Information sharing was key and making sure people were aware of the good and the bad events as they were happening.
"But however bad things seem, we are where we are and strong leadership means giving hope to the community.
"We were at a point where everyone's mental health was taxed, but with the right support and encouragement we came through it.
"This was an awful situation, but I believe Luton came out of it brilliantly and our communities are stronger and more focused on the issues that matter than ever.
"That is one thing I will take with me and I feel privileged to have seen it firsthand as mayor."