THE new mayor of Worthing has been elected, the first female Muslim in the role and the town's first Labour mayor since the 1930s.

Henna Chowdhury was chosen at Friday’s annual borough council meeting.

She takes over from Lionel Harman, who is Conservative councillor for Castle ward.

Newly elected Tarring ward councillor Rita Garner will be deputy mayor, taking over from Richard Nowak.

Cllr Chowdhury is following in the footsteps of Jack Saheid, who was the town’s first Muslim mayor between 2004 and 2005.

Her husband, Millad Chowdhury, will be mayor’s consort.

She said: “The mayor’s office has seen many great men and women that have left a tremendous mark on the fortune of the borough and the people who live within it.

“I was born in Bangladesh and, at a young age, I moved to England with my family.

“Sadly in 2018, my brother passed away and I wish to pay a special tribute to him today.

“My mum, my husband, our beautiful daughters and I are proud to call Worthing our home.

“Looking at the history of Worthing from its origin as a hamlet, it has developed into the beautiful, diverse community we see today.

“As your mayor I will serve with every fibre of my being.

“I set out to preserve and promote a spirit of compassionate service, addressing the needs of everyone in our communities to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.

“The tradition and the role of the mayor is both an honour and a calling with responsibilities.

“I would like to extend to every single member of the council, from both sides of the chamber, my personal gratitude for your confidence in me and I look forward to our positive engagements and debates in the chamber to serve the people of Worthing.”

Cllr Chowdhury moved to England when she was 11. She is fluent in three languages and works as a community interpreter.

She has three children with husband Millad.

“Millad and I have been married for 27 years,” she said, “He is my constant companion and best friend and I know that Millad will be a supportive and wonderful consort.”

Cllr Chowdhury was elected as Gaisford ward councillor in 2019, becoming the first female Muslim councillor at the borough council. She is also a county councillor for Tarring division.

Central ward councillor Sally Smith said: “Henna is a popular and well-known figure in Worthing who is always striving to do her best for her ward.

“Henna has gained a reputation for speaking openly about her lived experience of inequality and prejudice and has shown her commitment to fighting racism and removing the disadvantages experienced by many across the borough.”

The mayor will support three charities: West Sussex Mind, Superstar Arts, and Worthing Mencap.

Outgoing mayor Lionel Harman said he "didn’t want to go" when leaving the chair for the last time.

The Argus: Lionel HarmanLionel Harman

He said: “I would like to welcome the new members to this chamber and I’d like to thank all those that have left for their service.

“A special mention to my wife and former councillor Karen who has supported and worked alongside me throughout the last two years as my mayoress.

“I’m also grateful to Sean McDonald and Richard Nowak who both served as my deputies.

“I would like to put on my record my thanks for all of Richard’s hard work and support over the last year. He has been a great ambassador for the town and it’s a shame he won’t now have the honour to serve as first citizen.

“My mayoralty has been unlike any that have gone before. The pandemic caused us to completely change the way we conduct business, especially during the first year. Nevertheless we managed to get through.”

Cllr Harman paid tribute to the past mayors and one mayoress who have passed away since he took up the role.

He also supported three charities: Worthing Sea Cadets, Worthing Mencap and the Worthing Society.

“It’s been a privilege to have launched some of Worthing’s Jubilee celebrations,” he said.

“I will continue after my mayoralty to work alongside the veteran groups in town and promote their causes.”

Labour has proposed to review the mayoralty but Cllr Harman said disbanding it would be a "great mistake".

“The truth is, the mayoralty’s office costs very little to run but the returns to the borough’s economy are enormous,” he said.