In conversation with Jabba Riaz
Jabba Riaz was Mayor of Worcester from May 2018 – May 2019. Last month he handed over the chain to Allah Ditta and we were in conversation with him to hear more about his official duties and what he hopes his lasting legacy as Mayor will be.
The Mayor is the Civic Head of the Council and as well as chairing meetings of the Full Council and representing the city at ceremonial occasions, the Mayor also welcomes international visitors and attends events organised by local people. Jabba has been a welcome and postive influence on the City, embracing the culture and all that it brings. As (probably) the youngest Mayor of Worcester, his youth and exuberance certainly shone through his time in office and his message of ‘love not hate’ is a shining example of how Jabba has touched all of the communities within Worcester.
For more about Jabba, his mayoral role and what life after being Mayor might bring, please read more in our latest interview:
My alarm goes off and…
I hit snooze. I say a little prayer for the day ahead, for the opportunity of another day. And then get ready and go. That’s a 4.30am start usually, no later than 5am. I do some pre-prep before work – I work for Air Products as a Distribution Manager, my role is to man the office first thing.
I undertook my Mayoral role from midday, which meant attending meetings and official engagements. I’m 41 – so I was probably the youngest Mayor of Worcester to date; the majority have been semi-retired. So, there’s a 20-year gap on average between me and previous mayors. It wasn’t without its ups and downs, certainly being plucked from obscurity into the limelight – always being photographed and gaining attention – was something you needed to get used to.
How did you start doing what you’re doing?
I felt that there was a detachment between the Mayoral role and general public, especially with the younger generation and I wanted to explain what the role was about. I didn’t want it to be exclusive to a generation. The Mayoralty meant that I was an ambassador for the city and I believe I made positive changes with the use of that.
After 8-9 years on the Council, I didn’t think that the role had been used to its full effect so I used the opportunity to get messages across to younger generations and business communities within the city. It is not a metropolitan mayoral role like in London or Birmingham, but I did have the goodwill of the city and tried to appeal to all sectors. I asked, can we help you and can you help us?
With the recent rise in hate crime, a spike in and around the referendum, I took the opportunity to promote my ‘love, not hate’ message. We are a generally peaceful county and city (one of the safest in the UK and voted as one of the best in quality of life, politeness etc.) but there was a worrying rise in hate crime, so I tried to use my Mayoralty to unite us all.
I moved to Worcester when I was 1 or 2 years old and have been raised here ever since, living in the Ronkswood, Stanley Road and Wyld’s Lane areas of the city. I went to Perry Wood and Stanley Road primary schools, Nunnery Wood High School and King’s School, before studying for a degree in business in Leicester. This has helped me to understand and relate to all sectors in the community especially for this role, as there’s a cross-over of many different people and I feel that I can relate to everyone. I don’t see colour, which enables me to get on with everyone and as such opens up other avenues for growth and personal achievements – a sense of roundness and self-happiness, being at peace with yourself, the environment around you and everyone in it.
What worries you?
The extreme far right worries me, the thought that hate and evil are overcoming good and light. There’s a fine balance at the moment, throughout the world, with certain events and our country divided like it never has been before. So there’s a fine balance between negative and positive forces.
What are your notable highlights to date?
I’d like to think that I’ve laid strong foundations for my successor to carry on in the same way as I did – promoting love not hate, to keep the city increasingly united against all forms of hate and prejudice. To stand against hate and show we’re peaceful, like we demonstrated by standing hand in hand for Oscar and the search for Tom Jones. It’s important that we continue to show a united city and spread our good will.
Also, of note are how we recognised Basil D’Oliveira and his achievements in the downfall of apartheid in South Africa via the infamous tour, as well as the exceptional Mayor’s Ball hosted in March which raised £15k on the night and more for St Richard’s Hospice, Worcester Live and Worcester Community Trust – over £30k in all.
Not forgetting the amazing giraffes, such a wonderful addition to the city, the Armistice Memorial, Worcester Rapids winning the T20, creating a carnival atmosphere and a peaceful outcome to the August demonstration against a mosque being built (a video of the event shows Jabba dancing the Bangra in support of disbanding the unlawful behaviours at the EDL march) turning it into a positive event rather than a story of hate. It was such a unique year for achievements.
What’s the key to your success?
Wearing my heart on my sleeve and laying it out as it is, speaking from the heart. Certainly in the Mayoralty role I felt that I’d put everything into it.
Also, it’s important to trust in a good team, and I enjoyed a fabulous relationship with my PA and all of the Guildhall staff. We gained a mutual respect which benefitted the Mayoral Office and made everyone feel valued. That’s a basic rule for your success – it’s never you on your own who will achieve things. So much effort goes into getting me to where I’m supposed to be… not just from the office but also from my wife, family and parents, I really couldn’t do it without them.
Who or what has been your biggest influence?
My father – he taught me that you have to give back, not just take. If you haven’t any money or anything else to give, give your time. He helped me believe my true potential, more than anything. He’s old school, he knows that discipline and self-belief are very valuable. And so do I.
What’s on your bucket list?
Running off into the sunset, to a small plot of land in Morocco… maybe working as a shepherd or goat herding. Heading off into the wilderness to chill. I started life as an introvert and could quite easily go back to that and be a hermit. Whether I achieve it, I don’t know… making a difference in public office has been great, I will hand over the chains and then return to some solitary time with my wife and family.
What’s your biggest bugbear?
My level of expectation in others. I always fully expect people to have the same enthusiasm and belief as I do and it doesn’t always happen. I have to manage my own expectations.
What I wanted to be when I grew up
What can you do 3 of? Party piece?
3 minutes of awful dancing, as demonstrated in a YouTube video when we were using love not hate to disband the trouble…
Where can you mostly be found after work?
At home with my family.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
If you don’t try, you won’t find out.
Best piece you’d like to give?
You’ll come out on top with the victories and they will outweigh anything you’ve ever lost – so long as you’re patient and understanding, and have faith in your own abilities. A clear conscience and the ability to sleep peacefully at night is worth much more than a valley of gold. So do everything with integrity and honesty and a firm unselfish endeavour that you are setting out to make a difference not only to others but to you yourself also.
In Conversation With Jabba Riaz