'History made' as Luton welcomes first woman mayor of African heritage
Covid-19 couldn't dampen a historic moment as Luton borough councillors appointed two women as mayor and deputy mayor of the town.
In an investiture ceremony performed online for the first time, deputy mayor Maria Lovell became the second black woman and the first of African background in the mayoral role.
She replaces Tahir Malik, who resigned having been one of three Labour councillors to breach Covid-19 lock down guidelines.
Born in Ghana, Labour Leagrave councillor Lovell has lived in Luton for more than 30 years, and has three children and six grandchildren.
She described it as "a historic role, one which I'm deeply honoured to accept and I commit to serving the people of Luton to the best of my ability".
Labour Leagrave councillor Sameera Saleem said: "She has worked tirelessly to support and promote the African cultural heritage, to enhance community cohesion and foster links between Luton and Ghana.
"She was employed in the public sector locally and previously has worked in a central government post.
"Maria founded the Ghana Society in 2006 to participate in the Luton International Carnival to promote and showcase the West African country's cultural heritage.
"She received the mayor's citizenship award in 2011 for her valuable contributions to the community of Luton.
"She comes from a family of astute politicians, with parents who were ardent humanitarians and activists," added councillor Saleem, who proposed her ward colleague.
"And she aims to continue her utmost to bring all communities and faiths together, especially in these challenging times, to heal, restore and promote our town."
Councillor Lovell is just the second black woman to serve as mayor of Luton. The first was Jamaican-born Desline Stewart MBE - founder of Mary Seacole Housing Association - who served as mayor in the mid-90s.
In seconding councillor Lovell's nomination, Labour South councillor David Agbley said: "I think we're going to make history tonight.
"The first mayor of Luton of African heritage is an honour for a fellow Ghanian.
"Maria has done a lot for this town and I think we're privileged to have her as our mayor."
Labour Lewsey councillor Jacqui Burnett said: "The African Caribbean community in Luton and beyond are absolutely proud at this moment.
"It's quite symbolic of the times we live in."
Labour Leagrave councillor Waheed Akbar referred to the short period of time in which councillor Lovell has been elected, then served as deputy mayor and now town mayor.
"She has the contacts and relationships with different communities already," he said.
Labour Saints councillor Ghulam Javed proposed the new deputy mayor and ward colleague Summara Khurshid, describing her as "a mother, wife and superwoman".
In seconding her, Labour Saints councillor Javed Hussain said: "Summara has been a wonderful asset in the ward, showing her passion and enthusiasm to help people.
"She's too modest to say she runs her own charity and does a lot of charity work, which she believes should be done and not advertised."
Labour councillor Khurshid thanked everyone for their support and said: "I can assure you I'll serve Luton to the best of my abilities.
"Although we're going through unprecedented times and we're having to make numerous cuts, Maria and I will try our best to represent Luton in a most positive way."