Hearts for the Arts 2022 Shortlist – Councillor Mary Huggins

Mole Valley District's Councillor Mary Huggins has been shortlisted for Best Arts Champion - Councillor in the 2022 Hearts for the Arts Awards

Councillor Mary Huggins first took her seat in Mole Valley District Council in 1987 and will celebrate 15 (non-consecutive) years of service as a Councillor next year. During this time, Mary has used her popularity within the community and her position within the Council to resolutely champion the arts in Mole Valley. Cllr Huggins has worked with at least 5 different Arts Officers in her time and, ever since the role was changed to part-time in 2018, she can be seen regularly cornering senior council staff at to demand a full time Arts Officer.

Cllr Huggins has a particular interest in enabling both young people, and those in the fields of disability arts to have a platform and a voice. The Freewheelers’ and Head2Head Sensory Theatre are two charities in Mole Valley facilitating creative work in disability and SEND theatre and they are annual features of the local Arts Alive Festival – which won an award in last year’s Hearts for the Arts Awards for its pandemic re-branding into Arts E-Live. Cllr Huggins was key to moving the 2020 Arts Alive Festival online and this year for the 2021 she has supported a mixed approach: making the best of live in the room, live online, and pre-recorded content. This mixed approach has given the Festival considerably greater reach, particularly among disadvantaged groups – families on low income, and people who are housebound through age, disability, or caring responsibilities. It also enabled the festival to include virtual events from around Europe.

Cllr Huggins has also been praised for her support and encouragement to local Brazillian, Portuguese and Spanish communities through their drumming group Bloco do Sol.

This year Cllr Huggins has been supporting a collaboration between Mole Valley District Council, the NHS and community interest company IMM. This collaboration brought a major intergenerational project to Bookham – matching elders in a care home with young children at the school next door, who had been particularly badly affected by COVID – as well as bringing a singing group to Mickleham for vulnerable people in the district suffering social isolation during the pandemic. This required help from GP surgery social prescribing teams in order to identify participants directly.

Cllr Huggins’ nominators praised her for being great at connecting people, at networking and at socialising with a broad range of people. Her bags of energy and enthusiasm are totally infectious to all around her. She enthuses about a wide range of performing arts, and encourages people to look into different areas beyond the boundaries of their own activities and strengths. Always jolly and cheerful, with an innate ability to put people at their ease, she uses her position in public life to spread the word about the arts and their significant role in local wellbeing.

What the judges said:

“Councillor Mary Huggins sounds like a burst of energy and inspiration, with passion and dedication to promoting arts in the local area. Her continued work and commitment over the years should be applauded and, from the nominations received, she is clearly popular with those around her and naturally skilled in connecting with people. To have continued her work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making the best of the situation is a credit to her”

“Mary has clearly been a huge force for good in her community for many decades now. I’m in awe of her tenacity, her curiosity and willingness to embrace the new, and her determination that everyone should have access to the arts.  I might just have found my new role model!”