Desmond (Des) Wilson, who became Nottingham’s first black mayor 10 years ago and was one of few councillors to serve as Mayor twice, has been awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Laws by The University of Nottingham at a graduation ceremony to mark his support for the University as well as 50 years’ service to the communities of Radford and St Ann’s, and to the people of Nottingham.
The Doctorate is a significant distinction given to very few by the University. It recognises Des Wilson’s dedication to civic life in Nottingham, where he lived for 55 years.
During his time in the city he made outstanding contributions to the West Indian community and people across the entire city. Now he has retired to the town of his birth, Lucea in Hanover Parish, Jamaica yet continues giving his time, energy and imagination to improving young people’s lives.
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Honorary Doctorate for former Nottingham Lord Mayor
Decades of dedication to communities
On receiving this honour, Desmond Wilson said: “I don’t think I can find words to really describe how elevated I am about being given this award. When I first came to this city some 55 years ago, I didn’t dream that one day I would be being awarded by this great institution.”
Desmond (Des) Wilson was born in 1939 in Jamaica and went to England in 1957, like many at that time, to join relatives. He settled in Nottingham and worked first as a coal miner and then for Nottingham City Transport.
He was a trained engineer, but with declines in that industry and in the demand for his particular skills he adapted. Being a man with vision and driven by the ethic of the importance of work, he chose self-employment. In 1971, Des invested in a café in the Radford area of Nottingham — known fondly as ‘Des Café’ or ‘Des Res’ — where he got to know very well cross-sections of the local community.
This was a turning point. Des gained insights into problems faced by people across and throughout these communities, in particular the city’s West Indian community. By 1984, he was fully involved with organisations such as the Afro Caribbean National Artistic Centre, the West Indian National Association, the Race Equality Council and, in the 1980s, the Indian Pakistani African Caribbean community project, aware of the situations, requirements and aspirations of this diverse Diaspora.
Guided by his social conscience, he became more politically active in the 1980s and helped build training organisations, such as PATRA (Positive Action Training & Recruitment Agency), designed to get young people from ethnic minority communities into management activities, particularly within the housing sector. He was elected a member of Nottingham city council, serving from 1991 to 2007.
The role of Lord Mayor for the City of Nottingham dates back to 1284. It is largely ceremonial but carries Mayoral responsibilities. Des’s community links and knowledge of the business community served Nottingham extremely well. He supported inward investment, including Capital One.
Welcoming students from Jamaica
Professor Herb Sewell FMedSci, a fellow Jamaican and a former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham, gave the oration for Desmond Wilson’s award at his graduation ceremony on Tuesday 17 July 2012.
“Desmond’s service showed him to be a great friend and supporter of this University,” said Professor Sewell. “He opened the gates and indeed the coffers of the City Council on several occasions, holding civic welcomes for our students; particularly the international students from around the world who were new to this country and environment.
“Des contributed to making these young people feel welcomed. He forged a good partnership with our international office and, not surprisingly, also forged a close relationship with the University’s international students from the Caribbean islands, again a useful bridge facilitating the orientation of students to life in the city of Nottingham.”
“I introduced a system that linked the civic office with the University to get to know these students as soon as they came in and link them with local organisations so they could be integrated into the community,” said Des, speaking about the many postgraduate students he welcomed to Nottingham from Jamaica and elsewhere.
“Also, we used some of those students as role models within the UK education system. It was a two-way exercise, because children from black parents within the education system were more or less identified as tearaways. This was to let them realise that crime isn’t a way out of poverty.”
Des was founding chair of the Nottingham Jamaica Friendship Society, playing a central role in forging an agreement between Nottingham city and his parish council in Jamaica. He has been involved in developing global partnership links between primary and secondary schools in Nottingham and schools in Jamaica. This niche activity has provided a shining example of how to integrate global dimensions into the curriculum to advance opportunities for aspiring young people.
His dedication to the City of Nottingham and educational endeavours were cemented and recognised when New College Nottingham announced a bursary named after Desmond Wilson. This bursary will facilitate studies for young Jamaicans who want to continue their studies in Nottingham.
Back to Jamaica to make a difference
People with Des’s drive, conscientiousness and commitment never truly retire. He now lives in the Hanover in Jamaica, the district where he was born, and remains engaged in community activities. He is keen for his current work to transform the lives of young people in Hanover Parish and beyond.
“What I’m trying to do is see if I can make a difference to the lives of some of the children and unemployed young people in the district. Whilst I was in the UK, one of my charities Greenland Education Project, housed a basic school. A hurricane six years ago destroyed Middlesex Corner Primary School,” said Des. “I’m looking at developing a community training centre in the premises.”
“I’m negotiating with Jamaica’s National Training Agency (NTA) to bring a training agency to the young people of my parish, instead of them travelling 16-18 miles by bus and by taxi. One reason I need to go back to Jamaica at such short notice is that I’m arranging a Fundraising Fun Day. The fund is to go towards the refurbishment of this building, and the fun is to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. That’s my baby at the moment.”
See an with Des about his Honorary Doctorate here: http://youtu.be/ftLhsBBE-b8
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