A FORMER NHS manager has pledged to support grassroots health and wellbeing initiatives, support dementia-friendly schemes and back a charity dedicated to helping cot death parents while being installed as the new Mayor of Darlington.

Cllr Chris McEwan, who was handed the civic chain of office by his wife Amanda in an unprecedented virtual mayor-making ceremony screened live on Youtube, said his priorities for the coming year would also include tackling youth unemployment.

The former deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council said it was believed the town’s young people may face the greatest challenge as consequence of Covid-19 and so he would support them wherever possible.

Cllr McEwan also told the first public meeting of the authority since lockdown measures were introduced in March that he and his wife had lost their son William to cot death in 1991 and so wanted to support the Lullaby Trust to thank them for the support they had given his family and other parents.

After members were asked to “raise their electronic hands” to approve his appointment as mayor, he told the meeting: “I will also seek to support any efforts to raise the profile of our railway heritage and the Centenary in 2025. I am sure we would all agree that in 1825 – little old Darlington did something that transformed the world. I am keen, as are others, to make this celebration in five years an event that attracts world-wide attention and has legacy. We must in this run-in build on the great work to date and not let it falter or stumble.”

Cllr McEwan succeeds his fellow Labour Haughton and Springfield councillor Nick Wallis in the role.

Councillors paid tribute to the dedication of Cllr Wallis to the role and highlighted how he had led moves to make the borough a more inclusive place.

Red Hall ward member Councillor Sam Howarth said Cllr Wallis had celebrated the role’s heritage while embracing modernity. He added: “As you well know Councillor Wallis I haven’t always been entirely sold on the merits of the ceremonial mayor. However, what I have seen over the past 12 months is just how passionate you are about the history and tradition that is attached to that mayoralty.”