Friday, February 29, 2008

Getting involved with Liverpool Citizenship Ceremonies

Last month all 90 Liverpool City Councillors were written to by the Superintendent Registrar, to ask if we would be prepared to get involved with the Citizenship Ceremonies whereby successful applicants for British Citizenship are formally confirmed and registered.

The ceremonies celebrate the conferring of British Citizenship of around 15-20 people at a time. I went along last weekend to see a ceremony and learn more about what my role would be if I accepted the invitation to get involved. Councillor Barbara Mace was also there and we were shown into the reception area where we drank coffee with the expectant applicants. We got chatting with Tahir previously from Afghanistan, with his Liverpool born wife, little daughter and tiny baby son.

We all went into the ceremony together, the applicants with their family and friends to support them. The Superintendent Registrar, Denise, welcomed everyone and said some formal words and then the applicants were all asked to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown and make a pledge to uphold the values and laws of the UK.

Rosemary Hawley, former High Sheriff of Merseyside made a speech and presented the certificates to the applicants. It was at the moment of receiving the certificate that these men and women from all over the world became British. They were from Zimbabwe, China, Afghanistan and various other countries, too many to count (or remember). This is the role we were being asked to take for occasional ceremonies.

Apparently it is usually done by either the Lord or Deputy Lord Mayor, the High Sheriff, Lord Lieutenant, Chief Constable or other dignatory, but there are occasions when none of them can make it so they wanted to boost the pool a bit.

It was very moving actually. There was quite a lot of emotion, Tahir and his wife who we sat near were visibly delighted as he became British. People were bobbing up and down, taking photos and running their video cameras, a few tears, lots of smiles and hugs.

They were each given a framed picture of Liverpool as a souvenir from the Registrar as well as an application form to go on the electoral register.

Rosemary explained that now that they were British they could and should play a full part in British life, involving themselves in their communities, serving as governors, magistrates or councillors and that they should make sure they always voted.

Afterwards she stood and posed for photographs with each new Brit and the Registrar said the photos would find their way all round the world to family and friends.

Apparently a large majority of applicants are health workers from the hospitals or academics from the Universities. Rosemary told them that we welcomed their experience and everything they had to offer and that we looked forward to their contribution as new British citizens.

It was really quite similar to a civil wedding service. People dressed up, taking vows - and photos - and everyone so happy, with their friends and family there to witness their special moment.

I was so pleased to be asked to get involved and I cannot wait for the chance to share such a special ceremony when it is my turn on the rota. After everyone had gone home we had another cup of coffee with the staff where we all talked about how we take being British for granted, never giving it a moment's thought, but how when you see how proud people are to become British and how much it means to them, you realise how lucky we are to have been born so.

It was a really lovely few hours - I take my hat off to David Blunkett for coming up with the idea.

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