Life & Culture

Becoming an upstander, not a bystander

Mayoress Shooter Makes her Mark


This time last year Melissa Shooter was just a busy mum. Cook, cleaner, chauffeur to her four boys and little girl, she spent the day running around in her tracksuit and trainers, trying to complete her extensive “to-do” list.

Her husband Mark was a Barnet Conservative councillor, working tirelessly on the General Election campaign. One day in early 2015, he came home and casually asked her: “How would you feel about me becoming Mayor of Barnet for a year?”

She thought about it – and smiled. A clothes budget surely. Yes, she would enjoy getting dressed up, being chauffeured, looking glamorous before admiring crowds and cutting the odd ribbon.

“Yes - that’s wonderful. How many events would I actually need to attend?”

“Well, the Borough of Barnet gets around nine hundred invitations a year. We would need to attend, I don’t know, at least half? You’d be the Mayoress, you know!”

Four hundred and fifty events? Mayoress? How would she cope? Could she cope?

"Yes, I was apprehensive about being Mayoress, and very worried I wouldn’t be able to juggle the demands,” admits Melissa. “I’d been living in a comfortable bubble in Hendon for many years. Bursting it was going to be scary.”

But she did burst it and is today so grateful to have witnessed such diversity of ethnicity in a borough of about 400,000 residents, speaking almost two hundred languages.

Melissa and Mark are Barnet’s youngest ever husband-and-wife mayoral team. As the Barnet Mayoress, Melissa, 45, has danced at the Navratri Hindu Festival, celebrated at the Nepalese Dashain Festival, meditated with Hare Krishnas, met with the Sangam Asian women, as well as those of many other religions and nationalities, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Afghan, Iranian - enjoying their culture, customs and clothing. “It’s been such a privilege to be able to peer through the windows of their vibrant cultures, much of which is so similar to my Jewish culture. I’m impressed by how these community members have integrated and contributed so well to the borough without sacrificing their heritage. Individually and collectively they make Barnet a rich and colourful place. I am just sorry it took me so long to realize this.”

Melissa, who is orthodox, is a member of Dayan Abraham’s synagogue in Hendon (he is Barnet’s Mayoral Chaplain). She has been particularly fascinated to witness interfaith work, such as that of the Women Interfaith Network (WIN) and the Barnet Interfaith Forum. “They and others are doing invaluable work in cementing the many faiths in our borough.”

She has also been amazed at the work of the Barnet Refugee Service, which funds refugees and supports them in integrating into society, socially and professionally. But ultimately the unsung heroes, she says, are the volunteers, who work tirelessly on so many different projects – such as the North London Hospice. Its strong volunteer group raises much-needed funds through a network of charity shops. Other “secret gems” include Long Lane Pasture, run by a team of eager green-fingered volunteers who make their own honey and tend to the serene, blossoming gardens.

Since Mark took office last May, each week has been a learning curve. Melissa quickly decided she wanted to play a more active role. Nine months in (and with the clothes budget long blown) she has grown into her duties, no longer the quiet, dutiful wife, but a woman who can make a difference – be it learning the tango minutes before dancing, caring for others, or speaking impromptu at a moment’s notice. She now writes and delivers her own speeches – a skill she is now doing professionally for events and Bar and Batmitzvahs with her new speechwriting business.

She says the year has enriched her life and perspective beyond her wildest dreams and she hopes to continue to make a difference – offering to stand in as Mayoress in the future, whenever she is needed.

So yes, the role is a real juggling act as Melissa attends functions alongside her husband the Mayor, while managing her family responsibilities. She’s still a “spinning junkie” cyclist and loves dancing and entertaining. She also cherishes the opportunity to wander around the park finding “the beauty in G-D’s handiwork” through the lens of her camera.

With just weeks left as Mayoress, she is deeply committed to her role, using the opportunity to reach out to disadvantaged people. “I feel for the first time in my life that I am good at something and can make a difference. I can sprinkle my fairy dust wherever I go and they seem to like it. I hope they see me as Melissa who just happens to be the Mayoress.” And although the year will end shortly she is so grateful to Mark for giving her the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives: “In the great words of Dr Seuss: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’."

There have been some inspirational moments – when she made the bracha for 5,000 women standing in a marquee at the Challah Bake. Some awesome moments – when thousands sang her happy birthday just before a fireworks display at Saracens Rugby Grounds. Some poignant moments – like the inauguration of the Mayorship at Raleigh Close synagogue, where her husband Mark celebrated his Barmitzvah thirty-one years earlier. And equally, there have been tragic, unforgettable events – like the tenth anniversary of the London bombings, commemorated at St Paul’s. It will stay with her forever as a painful and humbling experience.

Barnet’s 2016 Holocaust Memorial Day theme – to be an "upstander" rather than a "bystander" – has powerfully impacted on Melissa. Her mayoral role has taught her what it means to be counted, rather than just blending into the background, comfortable and apathetic. She is no longer in a bubble. She has just returned from an Auschwitz trip, organised by her son's school, Immanuel College, a trip she felt she absolutely had to make.

Delivering her speech at Barnet’s HMD, addressed to all faiths and community members, she said: "Never has there been a more opportune time for all faiths to unite, to sing from the same song sheet, to share one voice, have one agenda, one power. To protect the future of our children and the freedom so liberally granted to us by our gracious Queen....We must never rest on our laurels, we must not stand by, we must never rely on someone else to do it. We must all share responsibility for each other.”

Recalling the inspiring words of JFK, she concluded, “We must ask ourselves every day. Not what benefits can my country give me but what can I do for my country? May we know Shalom, Salaam and peace in our time."

For speechwriting consultations Melissa Shooter can be contacted on

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive