Style of the City shines a light on influential, determined and courageous Welsh women doing extraordinary things and giving back to our unique community. We were given the chance to talk exclusively with local councillor, Dianne Rees, Former Lord Mayor of Cardiff 2018-2019.
Councillor Dianne Rees, mother of four adult children, and grandmother to eight grandchildren has had a tremendously active year as Lord Mayor. She continues to be an active member of the Community Council through her vigorous charity work, that has helped raise thousands of pounds for causes close to her heart.
What was it that made you decide to go into politics?
The love for my community and I was already involved in different charities. I started working with Barnardo’s and then I became a JP in 1988 and ever since, which will be 31 years in November. It’s a public duty and service to the city. It’s the city that I love, as I was brought up in Cardiff, I wanted to give something back. I got involved in politics via my local community and it grew from there.
When you made the decision that you were going to run for Lord Mayor, what made you think that you could achieve this accolade?
I didn’t see it as an accolade, I saw it as a service and to me, it was a natural continuation of what I was already doing. I had the belief that I could help the city in the direction it was already heading for. That was the time I could help, as my children were all grown up and my father had passed away. My mother was living with me and my youngest son was about 10 and I felt I could give something back, but also gain something myself. It was a way for me to see a path for the future.
What do you think your biggest achievement has been since becoming the Lord Mayor?
It was working for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, Tiny Lives Appeal. I wanted to work with children. My grandson was born 2 months premature, I knew how difficult it could be. My daughter had meningitis when she was only 19 months and it was a hard time for the whole family. When I met those from Noah’s Ark Charity, I knew it was the charity for me. I have also met so many people throughout this experience, from members of the charities, schools and people of our community. I represent the city in all important functions, which has allowed me to meet so many important people, like Geraint Thomas and members of the Royal Family.
What was your dream for Cardiff, and your ultimate goal for the city?
My goal for the city was to see it continue as the capital city of Wales and for it to get the recognition it deserves. The title of the Lord Honourable Mayor has only been given in four cities. This honour is rare and is given out by her Royal Majesty. The four cities are Cardiff, the city of London, York and Belfast. That’s only 4 in the UK, which is a recognition of what Cardiff is. I want to see Cardiff’s position cemented into the 21st century and that we grow, develop, move with the times and get the facilities and transport that we need. That is what I’d like to see happen. I also want us to have the finest medical facilities, to provide good health to our children, like charities such as Noah’s Ark are already doing.
What were some of the challenges you felt in the position you were in?
One of the challenges is that you chair the monthly meeting of the whole council. You are at City Hall in the Council Chamber and must control the entire council. Also, to be efficient, to get things done on time. Some people might think I’m too strict, possibly I was, but I like to get things done properly. Establishing my position within the Chamber was a challenge, as other members allowed situations that I didn’t agree with. However, to ensure change, you must gain the respect of the chamber to get the work done. I think I achieved that.
From a local level, what is something you fought for and achieved?
One thing was Shirley Bassey getting her Freedom of The City. It’s an honour given to very few people, like Churchill, Mandela etc. I think it was remarkable that we got her there. In terms of the city, being Lord Mayor isn’t a political position, you are there to chair the council, to make sure things are being done properly and to represent the city. I was able to go out and represent people in all walks of life and able to go to the mosques and speak at Friday prayers; as a woman in a mosque, it was an honour. Also, I attended Christian and Sikhs events, as Cardiff is a multicultural and diverse city and I found that people from all communities are very welcoming of each other.
What is your advice to someone who would like to get into a public service role?
Don’t give up even if you don’t get elected the first time. You really want to represent people and work on changes in your community. Do the work, know the background, know your community, that’s what I did.
Being a female in a male-dominated role, what challenges did you face?
Politics is still male-dominated. Less than 30% of the 75 council members are women. Therefore, there’s still an uphill battle for women, because the style of politics can be abrasive. But I’ve been elected continuously, and I believe it’s the work you do, not who you are, so don’t give up.
How did you raise the money for the charities?
Altogether 1 Million pounds was raised and our contribution was £200,037. I give complete credit to the Noah’s Ark Charity, they are incredible, without them we wouldn’t have been able to do it. The council raised money by hosting a charity cricket match, I hosted a salmon lunch at my house, there was a golf event, a big quiz and members of the council walked up Pen-Y-Fan. Members from all political parties worked together to help. And of course, the big ball, which was the icing on the cake, as Shirley Bassey attended and was so lovely.
Next step for you?
There’s plenty more for me to do, I will carry on working in the City Council for as long as I can and welcomed by my continuance.