‘Disrespectful’ - promise to honour Wellingborough’s first Black Mayor broken

The late councillor Michael Prescod was a pioneering community activist and prominent local figure

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By Sarah Ward

The promise to honour a prominent Black councillor by naming a street after him has still not happened more than five years after the pledge was first made.

In October 2016 the now defunct Wellingborough Borough Council decided to name a street on the Mayfield Holdings development after the late Michael Prescod MBE in recognition of all he had done for the town. Cllr Prescod, who died in 2010 aged 71, was a councillor for many years from the mid 1990s and founded the Wellingborough African and Caribbean Association (WACA) in 1980.

But five years on from the pledge, a sign has not been erected and his family, friends and former Labour colleagues are now calling for immediate action.

His daughter Belinda said:

“It is disgusting. I have contacted the council. Other mayor’s who came after my father have had roads named after them since. I am calling the race card on it and I think it is disrespectful. Someone needs to explain to me why mayors who served after my father have been honoured and my father has not.”

In October 2016 there was an official opening of the development off Irthlingborough Road and Cllr Prescod’s family and friends gathered at the site for a celebration. A temporary laminate sign was put up but that has long since vanished and now the street remains officially nameless. It is understood the developer went bust and the road remains unadopted.

The matter was brought to the attention of the Labour party at the former Wellingborough Borough Council last Autumn and then leader cllr Andrew Scarborough said he was given a verbal assurance by the then interim chief executive Shaun Darcy that a sign would be put up before the council closed down in April.

Cllr Scarborough, who now sits on Wellingborough town council said:

“Shaun Darcy took a look, found out what the delay was and told me the borough council would fix it. The borough council then disappeared and it has surfaced very rapidly that nothing had been done.

“I wish I had had confirmation in writing from Shaun Darcy.

“If people are hiding behind the legals it is simply not good enough. It seems remarkable that so many things have got in the way and the sign has run into so many problems over the years.”

Cllr Val Anslow, who represents the Croyland and Swanspool ward on the new unitary council, brought up the issue to the authority last month and yesterday wrote again to the authority demanding action. She says the lack of action is disrespectful to the late councillor and to his family.

She wrote:

“It has been nearly a month since I wrote about the road sign, promised by BCW (borough council) in 2016, commemorating the public service of Cllr Mike Prescod. 

“He worked for the good of the town as both a councillor, being instrumental in setting up Wellingborough Afro Caribbean Centre in Rock Street, and as the first black Mayor, worked hard to bring different ethnic groups together.

“Five years on and the road has still no name, but it goes somewhere - to residents’ homes. The people who live in Prescod Close deserve a road sign, and the family of Mike Prescod deserve to see a permanent sign on the road, which is in the ward where he served.

“I know that in the scheme of things, in the light of decisions that are having to be made in North Northants, this request is small. 

“Therefore it should not be difficult to make it happen without much cost. BCW did not follow through (on) their promise, and North Northamptonshire Unitary Authority needs to pick up where they failed.”

Cllr Prescod was born in Barbados in 1938 and moved to Britain when he was 19. He served in the army before moving to Coventry with his wife Joyce in 1970, where he became a social worker. He moved to Wellingborough in 1976 with his family to take up the position of Ethnic Minority Social Worker with Northamptonshire County Council. During this time he helped set up the Victoria Centre and WACA and was later made the honorary life president.

In the early 1980s he worked in Islington’s children’s services department and then became a neighbourhood manager. He also served as a member of London-wide agencies for the improvement of race relations before retiring in the 1990s and then devoting his time to community and voluntary work.

He became a Wellingborough councillor in 1995 and was the town’s first Black Mayor in 1998.

Paul Crofts was a long-time friend of Cllr Prescod.

He said:

“Mike was a really powerful figure in Wellingborough and the black community. He was a strong advocate for racial justice and equality. He was a very good colleague on Wellingborough council and as mayor he pioneered many of the things we now take for granted, such as Party in the Park. He was highly respected and was given an MBE for services to his community.

“After all these years things have never been finished. He was the most significant Black person in Wellingborough and we can’t even have a proper memorial to him.”

A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said:

“There’s no doubt that Cllr Mike Prescod worked tirelessly for his community and his legacy is greatly admired by all in North Northants.

“This issue is a complex planning and legal issue, involving more than just this road sign, which has been inherited from a predecessor council.

“We are currently investigating such legacy projects to see how they can be resolved.”

Cllr Graham Lawman who is the cabinet member for Highways and also a Wellingborough councillor has been contacted for comment.

The lack of an honour for Cllr Prescod comes after the recent recognition of Wellingborough-born Anita Neil, as Britain’s first black female olympian. As a teenager she represented her country in the 1968 Mexico Olympics in the 4 x 100m relay, but then faded into obscurity locally and nationally despite being the town’s one and only GB athlete.

In 2012 when the olympic torch came through the town she asked the borough council if she could be a torch bearer. The European and commonwealth medal winner was told she could instead come to the council offices to meet the torch bearers.

She was officially recognised as Britain’s first black female athlete by the British Olympic Association in May. Wellingborough Museum will feature an exhibition about Anita’s achievements starting on July 17.

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Thanks, Sarah and Natalie (NN Journal founders)