Avril, the first Labour Mayor of Swanage!

After four years, councillor Mike Bonfield has stepped down as Swanage Mayor and councillor Avril Harris has been elected to become the town’s 20th mayor and its first Labour mayor.

At the annual council meeting on Monday 24th May 2021, held outside amid sunshine and showers at Swanage Bandstand, Avril Harris was voted in as Swanage Mayor.


She was first elected to the council as a Labour councillor for Swanage South ward in 2015.

Election of new mayor Avril Harris

The mayoral chain of office is handed over to councillor Avril Harris

Fifth woman to serve as mayor

Avril Harris has most recently served as deputy mayor and is churchwarden at St Mary’s Church in Swanage.

She becomes the fifth woman to serve as mayor since the role was created when the town council was formed in April 1974. Avril Harris follows in the footsteps of Doreen Parsons, Julie Wheeldon, Gloria Marsh and Alison Patrick.

Election of new mayor Avril Harris  and deputy Tina Foster

Deputy mayor, councillor Tina Foster and Mayor, councillor Avril Harris

Tina Foster is deputy mayor

At the meeting, councillor Tina Foster was elected to the deputy role. Born at Mount Everest, the former maternity wing of Swanage Hospital, Tina Foster was brought up in Studland and was the postmistress at the Studland Post Office from 1979 to 1990. She also served on Studland Parish Council for many years.

Tina Foster moved to Spain but returned to Swanage in 2018 and was elected as a Conservative councillor for Swanage North ward in 2019.

Outgoing mayor Mike Bonfield and outgoing deputy Avril Harris

Last day as mayor for councillor Mike Bonfield as he hands over to his deputy

Mike Bonfield – only Swanage mayor to serve four consecutive terms

Councillor Mike Bonfield is the only mayor to serve four consecutive terms, although he had intended to stand down in 2020 but delayed his departure for a year to provide continuity for the council during the pandemic.

As he stepped down from the role, Mike Bonfield thanked councillors Bill Trite and Gary Suttle for steering him through the job, the town council staff and his wife, Audrey.

“Swanage Town Council is one big family”

He said:

“Swanage Town Council is one big family and we all get on much better than in the past. There’s always something that comes up – it’s not always easy but we work hard to do our best.”

Earlier there had been tributes to Mike Bonfield. John Corben said he was an outstanding mayor, while the rector of St Mary’s Church, John Mann thanked him for his support.

Bill Trite added that he’d conducted himself as mayor in an approachable way, with a sense of humour and a sense of proportion.

Election of new mayor Avril Harris at Swanage Bandstand

The Swanage Annual Town Council meeting took place outdoors at Swanage Bandstand amid thundery rain clouds

“Working together for the benefit of the town”

In her acceptance speech, the new Swanage Town Mayor, Avril Harris said:

“I am honoured to be elected as mayor and I am very conscious of being the first mayor from a minority party, which I see as a reflection of the unified attitude of this council – looking beyond party differences and working together for the benefit of the town, and I hope we will continue to do so.

“Mike Bonfield has been our mayor for the last four years and I would like to thank him for all his hard work as mayor, both in leading the council and in representing the town beyond our boundary, particularly given the unique difficulties we have faced during the past 15 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Bill Trite receives honoured citizen award

Councillor Bill Trite receives Honoured Citizen of Swanage award

Bill Trite and Gary Suttle bestowed as Honoured Citizens of Swanage

As her first duty as mayor, Avril Harris bestowed the title of Honoured Citizens of Swanage to councillors Bill Trite and Gary Suttle, who were first elected in May 1991 and have served for 30 years. She said:

“This is their eighth term of office and by the end of it, they will be the joint second longest serving councillors in the town’s history – second only to James Day’s 42 years.

“Gary was mayor between 1999 and 2002 and again from 2006 to 2008. He is the town’s longest serving mayor having served for five and a half years. As well as the town council, Gary served on Purbeck District Council for many years and was leader for a time. After the demise of the PDC, he became a Dorset Council councillor and is portfolio holder for finance.

“Bill was mayor from 2010 to 2013. He was elected to Purbeck District Council in 1996 and served on that council until its demise in 2019 and was then elected to Dorset Council alongside Gary. He is highly conscientious in representing the views of Swanage residents on the Eastern Area Planning meeting.”

Election of new mayor Avril Harris

Mayor of Swanage Avril Harris chairs the meeting while sitting next to town clerk Martin Ayres and deputy mayor Tina Foster

“A happier town council today, than in any year before”

While Gary Suttle was away on holiday, Bill Trite was at the meeting to accept the commemorative certificate. He said:

“I’m very honoured and I’m sure I speak for Gary as well, in saying that. I knew nothing about this, so I really wasn’t expecting it. I’m very grateful.

“It doesn’t feel like 30 years. I feel we have a happier town council today, than in any year before. It’s certainly a better place than 30 years ago.”

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