Councillor Charles Swift celebrating 60 years of public service in Peterborough

Cllr Charles Swift, with his wife Brenda, was honoured at a surprise 'This is Your Life'  party at the Parkway Club. Photo: David Lowndes
Cllr Charles Swift, with his wife Brenda, was honoured at a surprise 'This is Your Life' party at the Parkway Club. Photo: David Lowndes
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There can be few better known faces in the city of Peterborough than councillor Charles Swift - who celebrated an amazing six decades of service on Tuesday (1 July).

Cllr Swift was elected to the North ward on 1 July, 1954, when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Doris Day was at Number 1 in the music charts.

Charles Swift

Charles Swift

Since then he has fought and won 15 elections, attended more than 500 full council meetings as well as thousands of committees and council functions.

He is believed to be the longest serving city councillor in the country and has not only led the council, but also been its Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

Councillor Swift said: “When I was first elected I never could have imagined still being a city councillor 60 years later.

“I think I’ve been around for so long because I’ve simply tried to serve my constituents and the people of Peterborough in general.

The candidate for Labour at the 1954 election - a young Charles Swift.

The candidate for Labour at the 1954 election - a young Charles Swift.

“I’ve always fought hard at elections and just tried to do what’s best.”

Councillor Swift was the Labour candidate for the North ward by-election in 1954 which he won by 1,180 votes with a turnout of 49 per cent.

He became the youngest ever member of the city council at the age of 23.

Since then he has fought and won 15 elections, attended more than 500 full council meetings as well as thousands of committees and council functions.

Charles Swift with a portrait at the Town Hall in May 2011, 50 years since he was elected as Mayor. of Peterborough Photo: David Lowndes/Peterborough Telegraph

Charles Swift with a portrait at the Town Hall in May 2011, 50 years since he was elected as Mayor. of Peterborough Photo: David Lowndes/Peterborough Telegraph

In fact, Councillor Swift, who is now an Independent councillor, believes he has only ever missed two full council meetings since 1954 and one of those because he was on council business elsewhere.

During his time there have been 13 Prime Ministers and Sir Winston Churchill was running the country when he first took his seat.

His mother Maud had been elected to Peterborough City Council two years before him.

Local politics continued to play a big part in the family’s life as Cllr Swift’s sister, Audrey Chalmers also served on the city council for 32 years.

Councillor Charles Swift  in 2012. Photo: Ben Davis/Peterborough Telegraph

Councillor Charles Swift in 2012. Photo: Ben Davis/Peterborough Telegraph

Cllr Swift’s many achievements include playing a key role in getting Peterborough designated as a New Town in 1967.

He then oversaw more than £1 billion worth of development in the city.

And always one to help people, in 1972 Cllr Swift set aside 50 council houses in Peterborough for Ugandan refugees.

During his years of service Councillor Swift has met the Queen five times and welcomed Princess Diana to the Town Hall among many other royal visits.

In 1985 he was awarded an OBE for services to the public and has been an active member of the Salvation Army since he was a teenager.

A former engine driver on the railways, he has never driven a car and still cycles to some council meetings at the Town Hall and around his ward.

He said: “The good thing about getting around by bike is that you meet people, you stop and talk to them and find out what’s going on.

“I once went to the shop with my son and he said ‘dad you’ve spoken to 43 people between here and home’. That’s not a bad thing.”

And he is quick to pay tribute to the support of his wife Brenda, 80, who he has been married to for 58 years, and children Imant, Ian, Paul, Mark and Janet.

Cllr Swift said: “I couldn’t have done any of it without my family as I’ve probably spent as much time at the town hall as I have at home.

“My family are my finest achievement, as to have a family who support you in what you do is simply unbeatable.”

Cllr Marco Cereste, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “Charles’ service to this council is an incredible achievement and I would like to personally congratulate him.

“He should be held aloft as a shining example of what people can achieve when they get involved in local politics and the difference they can make to a community and the people in it.

“Charles has not only led the city, but has also been wonderful ambassador and we can’t thank him enough.

“He is highly regarded among his fellow members and the people of Peterborough.”

Cllr Marianne Overton, leader of the Local Government Association Independent Group, said: “The Independent Group at the LGA is delighted to congratulate Councillor Swift on the Diamond Jubilee of his service as a local councillor on Peterborough City Council.

“His contribution to the community in Peterborough and more widely has been exceptional over the 60 years and his wide ranging work.

“We do not know of another LGA Independent Group member who has served as a councillor for so long and wonder if this makes his length of service unique?

“Our heartfelt thanks to Councillor Swift for his impressive effort and long may it continue.”

Share your memories of Charles Swift, by commenting on our website, submit your own stories, photos and videos to us, or on Twitter @peterboroughtel or email - news@peterboroughtoday.co.uk

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Factfile on Cllr Charles Swift

A number of records have fallen during Cllr Swift’s 60 successive years of serving Peterborough City Council.

A unionist from a young age,the family had moved from Ossett near Dewsbury to Peterborough in 1946.

Eight years later Cllr Swift was beaten in his first tilt at office, losing out by a slender margin of 12 votes, following a couple of recounts.

That disappointment did not last long.

Five weeks later two long-standing council members were made aldermen for their long service, and a by-election was called in the north ward.

This time Cllr Swift was successful, and he became the city’s youngest councillor at the age of just 23, two years after his mother had achieved office in the South Ward.

Local politics continued to play a big part in the family’s life as Cllr Swift’s sister, Audrey Chalmers also served on the city council for 32 years.

On May 29, 1961, he became

Peterborough’s youngest mayor at the age of 30 as one half of a

youthful pairing - deputy Mayor George Bradley was only 32 Cllr Swift went on to become leader of the council for 20 years across three separate stints.

Cllr Swift was made a Freeman of the City on May 14, 1984.

In 1985 he was awarded an OBE for services to the public and has been an active member of the Salvation Army since he was a teenager.

In 1992 he moved across from the Labour Party to become an Independant.

During his years of service Councillor Swift has met the Queen five times and welcomed Princess Diana to the Town Hall among many other royal visits.

Cllr Swift has retained folders of all council-related news from the Peterborough Telegraph during his time in office - a treasure trove of thousands of items of news.

And no doubt he will be looking to add to it when his seat will be contested next year.

Related:

Town Hall View: Help us celebrate Peterborough’s finest, by Marco Cereste

From the archives:

Charles Swift: An incredible 55 years on council, 8 July 2009

Stalwart Peterborough councillor Swift rolls back the electoral years, 4 May 2012