The youngest ever Mayor of Blackpool says she'll be doing things her way during her year in office.
Councillor Amy Cross, who first stood for election when she was 18, says she hopes to inspire young people in Blackpool, as well as highlighting the resort’s LGBT community.
At 30, she is the youngest mayor in the resort’s history and she is determined to shake up the institution while still respecting the honour bestowed on her of being first citizen.
Her priority is to blow the trumpet for all things Blackpool – even the wardrobe for her civic year is from local store Beau Belle – while supporting some of its most vulnerable residents through her mayoral charity Empowerment.
Coun Cross, a former pupil of Montgomery Academy in Bispham, knows from experience the challenges many young people face – and hopes her personal journey will inspire others.
She said: “I’m the youngest Mayor by a fair bit but I started at a young age and was elected to the council at 22.”
Coun Cross first stood in the Conservative safe ward of Stanley and failed to win a seat, but in 2011 she was elected in Ingthorpe.
Since then she has held senior roles and had to take the difficult decision of giving up her cabinet position looking after health and adult social care in order to take up the mayoralty.
Because of the May local elections, the choice of mayor for 2019/20 was delayed until it was known who had retained their seats.
The appointment is based on length of service, and a couple of people were ahead of Coun Cross in the queue but for various reasons declined the honour.
She said: “I had two weeks notice whereas most people have four months.
“It’s absolutely wonderful that I get to promote the town where I grew up and have lived my entire life.
“We have our problems but we are one of the most genuine, honest towns I have ever encountered and I travel a lot.
“Here they tell you about the problems and that means we can do something about it.”
As a teenager Coun Cross lived for a short while in the Foyer on Chapel Street. Now closed, its aim was to help young people in education or just starting out on their working lives.
She recalls: “I have very loving and caring parents, but it was difficult circumstances when they divorced.
“My father moved to Bolton and my mum had a one-bedroomed flat. I was 16 and it did cause friction.
“So I ended up living in The Foyer, a supported living service for 16 to 25-year-olds, for 18 months.
“With The Foyer, you either got in with the wrong crowd or you didn’t.
“I was fortunate in having a good group of friends around me and I am still in touch with the friends I made there.
“I joined the Labour party when I was 15. Instead of doing my exam prep I was knocking on doors for the 2005 General Election.
“Then I first stood for election myself when I was 18. My birthday was just a month before the nominations went in.
“At the time I was the youngest person to stand nationally because they had just changed the rules to allow candidates to stand from the age of 18 instead of 21.”
She has chosen Blackpool charity Empowerment as her mayoral charity and is raising money to support its work giving a voice to people, many of whom have mental health issues and disabilities.
Another of her campaigns is to highlight the resort’s LGBT community and to support the annual Pride event which ran into financial difficulties this year.
It is hoped to get the event, which celebrates diversity, back on track in 2020.
In the meantime Coun Cross is the busiest she has ever been – with just two days off in the last month as she juggles the mayoralty with her other roles including ward councillor, school governor, chairman of the Blackpool Entertainments Company Ltd, and representative roles with the Local Government Association.
She has help in the form of her consort, long-standing friend Jon Sillis, while deputy dayor Coun Jim Hobson is also on hand to share the work load.
Engagements have ranged from opening a refurbished B&M Bargains to Armed Forces Week and the LGBT power lifting championships.
She said: “Armed Forces Week was amazing and I was very suprised by being saluted at!
“One of my favourite events are citizenship ceremonies at the Town Hall as it’s nice to spend time with people who have been on a long and arduous journey to get where they are.
“They are literally from all over the world but have chosen Blackpool as the place they want to be part of.”
But there is no time for old-fashioned titles or anything which will not directly help Blackpool.
Instead she is busy posting on Facebook so everyone in the community can see what she is doing.
Coun Cross said: “My role this year is to promote Blackpool. That’s what the job is – it’s not to go round having fancy dinners with people.
“It’s nice that other people want to do that, but it’s not for me. They also wanted me to be addressed as Mr Mayor but I said no to that, and so it’s Lady Mayor.
“But after the first introduction, I just tell people to call me Amy.
“There is nothing wrong with tradition but we also have to keep up with the times.
“It’s not fair to ask people to take up the role and then do it the same as 100 years ago.”
During her 12 months, she hopes to inspire young people in Blackpool not to let anything hold them back.
“When I was a teenager I had no idea where I would end up, ” she says.
“I gave a speech recently at the launch of the Headway Resilience Pathway and I told the young people about where I had lived and the personal challenges I had had along the way.
“From where you start, you don’t know where you might end up – so have some drive and you can achieve what you want to achieve.”