‘We are not going to change the world but we might change it for someone’
At the beginning of June Alliance Councillor Stephen Martin became the First Citizen of Lisburn after he was appointed as the city’s Mayor.
Mr Martin is no stranger to the Mayor’s Office after serving as Deputy to Councillor Brian Bloomfield several years ago.
And it is with that experience that he is determined to make the most of his term in office.
Born and bred in Lisburn, a former pupil of Harmony Hill Primary and Wallace High School, Mr Martin had a strong interest in the world of politics and public service from a very young age.
“I love politics and I have always had an interest in it,” revealed Mr Martin, who is taking a year off from his role as a manager in the Health Trust.
“My first act of political activism when I was nine or 10 was writing to the council to complain about the state of the duck pond in Wallace Park.
“The council wrote back to say it had been sorted so I went on a ‘site visit’ to the park and I didn’t think it was sorted at all so I wrote again and got a letter back from then Mayor Harry Lewis.
“I have always been interested in current affairs and the local community but joining a political party wasn’t something I was interested in.”
However that changed after graduating from Law at Queen’s University when Mr Martin heard that the Alliance Party might lose their seat in Lagan Valley. Spurred on at the age of just 22 to take action, he attended his first meeting. “I was the youngest person in the room by about 35 years,” admitted Mr Martin. “The Youth Alliance at that stage was in single figures.
“Two days later Seamus Close (former Lisburn Councillor and MLA) retired and I got a tap on the shoulder to ask if I would consider running for election.”
He was first elected to represent Lisburn North in 2011 and was immediately appointed as Chair of the Council’s Corporate Services Committee.
“I had never even been to a committee meeting before and someone had to show me where to sit,” he admitted.
“I quickly learnt that if you treat people with courtesy and respect, it is returned. You also have to learn not to take yourself too seriously.”
Mr Martin also served as the Deputy Presiding Councillor during the transition from Lisburn City to Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, a role he thoroughly enjoyed, and in 2016 he was appointed as the city’s Deputy Mayor, and served under Mayor Brian Bloomfield, who had coincidentally been Mr Martin’s principal when he attended Wallace High School.
“I served with Brian Bloomfield, which was lovely,” continued Mr Martin. “He was very good with me and I always showed him due deference.
“He always treated this as a very civic office and wasn’t party political.”
Mr Martin is looking forward to sharing his year in office with Deputy Mayor, Ulster Unionist Councillor Tim Mitchell. “I am looking forward to working in partnership with Councillor Mitchell,” said Mr Martin.
“This is a temp job for 12 months and we can’t miss any opportunities. We will approach it together and if we can move the ball forward even a little we know we have done a good job.”
With three young girls, Emily (7), Imogen (5 - and a half, which is very important), and Hallie (18 months), it is no surprise that children and young people will be at the very heart of Mr Martin’s term in office.
Throughout his year, Mr Martin, his wife Joanna and their three girls will be taking part in as many events together as possible. Most recently Mr Martin and his daughter Imogen paid a visit to the BMX club at Bell’s Lane and, according to the Mayor, “had the best craic”. So it sounds as if a year of, not only community service, but also of fun, is on the horizon for the Martin family.
It is also comes as no surprise, given his passion for helping children and young people, that his two chosen Mayoral charities for the year work tirelessly in that field.
His first charity is MACS, which has a base on Longstone Street in Lisburn.
“I thought long and hard about which charities I would choose,” he explained. “MACS helps children and young people who haven’t had a fair start in life.
“They help those who have left the care system, helping them to learn life skills. They also help kids who have fallen on hard times.”
Mr Martin’s second charity for the year is ADDNI, which is based in Carryduff.
“The charity helps children and young people with ADHD,” explained Mr Martin.
“That was important to me. There are lots of kids out there who get labelled as disruptive but they need support.”
Throughout the year ahead Mr Martin will hold a number of events to raise money for the two charities, as well as raising much needed awareness about the work that they do in the community.
Mr Martin is also determined to hold onto the community spirit that was instilled in everyone during the recent pandemic and lockdown.
“There are covid restrictions in place but I want to hold onto the community spirit that has been generated.” Mr Martin continued.
The Mayor is even more conscious of the community spirit that came to the fore during the recent pandemic, having worked throughout the lockdown in the NHS.
“I have never met more committed, professional people,” he said, speaking about the NHS staff who worked tirelessly over the last year. “I have never seen a group of people who worked, worked, worked. They just put their heads down and got the job done. It really was something to be part of.”
As the covid restrictions begin to ease Mr Martin is looking forward to a busy year in office.
He is particularly looking forward to celebrating the granting of Royal status for Hillsborough, which, he said, “will be a very important moment for the city”.
Each year the Mayor holds an annual dinner, which is attended by the great and the good of the city. This year, Mr Martin hopes to be able to invite lots of young people to the dinner and get them involved in the civic life of the city.
“I would really like to open up the council and have as many children and young people as possible involved in everything we do.
“I have always enjoyed spending time with children and young people,” admitted Mr Martin. “Sometimes you get lost in the seriousness of being a grown up and they make things more fun.”
Hoping to make a difference to the city and its people during his year as Mayor, Mr Martin added: “We are not going to change the world but we might change it for someone.”