A year to remember for Prad Bains, the grassroots goalkeeper breaking down the barriers during his year as Havant mayor
He is anything but the stereotypical image of a mayor; after all, how many 24-year-old Mayors do you know, how many are from a BAME background, how many were a black belt in a martial art at the age of just seven, and how many do you see regularly playing in goal on a Saturday afternoon for their local football team?
For sure, he is a mayor with a difference. And Prad Bains’ year in office has turned out to be nothing like the one enjoyed by any of his 46 predecessors since the role - his official title is ‘The Worshipful the Mayor of Havant’ - was created in the mid-1970s.
But he’s liking it that way. He is glad to be different, proud to have introduced a ‘different dynamic’, and while the pandemic has created a whole host of problems, Bains - also a keen cricketer, having played for Hambledon and Portsmouth - is delighted he’s been able to bring a 21st century approach to his mayoralty of Havant Borough Council
An approach very much in line with a society that he hopes will continue to become more inclusive and more equal, one which celebrates diversity.
Bains’ vision is of a society desperate to shed the racism that remains and offers people from all backgrounds - irrespective of age, religion and colour of skin - the same opportunities in life.
He believes he is ‘privileged’ to be offered the chance to play a meaningful part in changing attitudes in a Borough of around 130,000 residents.
Asked to describe your stereotypical Mayor, most would envisage a white, middle-aged (or older) person who is generally seen out and about wearing chains of office while officially opening fetes in the summer months and laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday.
Bains, though, has not been able to sit back with his feet up and wait for the invites to pour in asking him to attend village fetes, dog shows and other minutiae of community life. Many of those events did not take place in 2020.
As the goalkeeper for Hampshire Premier League club Denmead, he is used to boxes - his six-yard box, the penalty box - but, due to coronavirus, he has been forced to ‘think outside’ one to maximise the impact of his year in office.
‘Normally this (the Mayor’s role) would be a full-time job, taking up most of each day,’ he said. ‘But I’ve needed different skills and a different approach as events have not been taking place.
‘I have had to create an awful lot, I’ve reached out to a lot of people - businesses, charities, schools.’
As soon as the first lockdown was announced almost a year ago, Bains - a ward councillor for the Hart Plain ward of Havant Borough Council - sprang into action, setting up the Waterlooville Helping Hands support group.
‘Within 24 hours we had around 100 amazing volunteers who wanted to help the most vulnerable members of our community - picking up food, prescriptions, being call buddies,’ he recalled.
‘We helped over 120 people.
‘It was led by me, it was outside of any Mayor duties, and it’s the proudest thing I’ve done so far.
‘For a while it took up most of my day, every day. I was on the phone at 8 in the morning and I’d go through until about 10 at night. It was a really challenging time.
‘The volunteers were inspirational - they were ordinary people delivering extraordinary outcomes.
‘There are so many unsung heroes out there, and I have felt hugely privileged all the time to meet them.
Bains was also the brains behind last year’s Think Pink week which saw school children from across the Havant area wear the colour.
All monies raised went to the Mayor’s chosen charity, Hannah’s Holiday Homes - set up in memory of Hannah Westbrook who sadly passed away in 2004 from Hodgkin’s disease. She was just 10 years old and had gone to the same Waterlooville school as Bains.
The charity offers free fun breaks at holiday homes on Hayling Island and in the New Forest to families who have children with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses.
‘I wrote to every school in the borough, and 24 replied - that’s 8,000 children who got involved,’ said Bains.
‘The level of interaction with the schools was great. Education is a key focus of mine and from writing to them I’ve been invited to school assemblies, I’ve done Q and As.
‘The Think Pink campaign was a highlight - stuff like that had never been done before.
‘I’m trying to make everything more accessible than ever at council level.
‘The Mayor Making session was streamed live - normally you’d have about 100 people in a room, this time we had over 400 people who tuned in, we had people watching from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India.’
The Memorial Woodland at Havant Thicket is another of Bains’ projects. Part of a £100m Reservoir project being pioneered by Portsmouth Water and Havant Borough Council, the Woodland will give walkers a place of quiet reflection to remember lost loved ones.
‘People have said they feel sorry for me because I haven’t had the usual Mayor’s year,’ Bains commented.
‘I’ve told them ‘why do you feel sorry?’
‘I’ve reached out to people who had not been reached out to before.
‘I’ve engaged with thousands of children through the Think Pink campaign, I’ve led on the Helping Hands project.
‘I’ve come up with the idea of the Memorial Woodland at Havant Thicket - 3,000 trees have been planted there, it’s absolutely amazing.
‘People will be able to go there and reflect, schools can visit - it will be absolutely brilliant.’
Bains is happy to talk about his ethnic background to school pupils, insisting he can do his bit to help break down barriers. Due to his age, he can also make the position of Mayor a bit, well, ‘cooler’.
‘It’s really important to challenge the stereotypes,’ he said.
‘I’ve been absolutely amazed when I’ve given talks at schools.
‘I’ve asked children what they want to do when they grow up and some have said ‘I want to be a Mayor like you!’
‘Because I’m younger, I think there is a better relate-ability.
‘I’ve talked to the schools about how important it is to have greater inclusivity and diversity.
‘I have talked about my background - my family’s heritage is something I’m proud of.
‘Equality and diversity is so important to me.
‘Your background, religion or the colour of your skin should not be a factor in anything.
‘Hart Plain School invited me in during their Black Lives Matter week, I felt very privileged to be asked.
‘I talked about diversity, inclusivity, my background - it made it all very relatable for the children.’
Bains got involved in local politics mainly due to his mum Narinder, who was elected to Havant Borough Council in 2015 as a ward councillor for Cowplain.
‘I always wanted a community role, and I saw my mum helping to resolve local issues,’ he recalled.
‘Hart Plain was a perfect fit - I’ve lived in the ward all my life, I knew it very well. I know it even better now!
‘It’s the variety of subjects you get - could be about bin collections, noise complaints, planning applications. No two days are ever the same.
‘In recent years the average age of a councillor has decreased.
‘It’s encouraging that younger people are getting involved, providing a balance with those who have longer-term experience.’
Bains was elected as Hart Plain councillor in 2018, and is up for re-election in May 2022.