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Birmingham's 'loyal friend of Jamaica' becomes a lord

LOYAL PARTNERSHIP: Mike Whitby, left, with the late Howard Aris in February 2010 when they signed the historic deal for Jamaica’s track and field team to train in the city before London 2012

A FORMER leader of Birmingham City Council who played a key role in attracting the Jamaican track and field team to base their pre-Olympic training camp in the city before London 2012, has been awarded a seat in the House of Lords.

Loyal friend of Jamaica Mike Whitby, soon to be Lord Whitby, is to be a Conservative peer, Downing Street has announced.

He said his new position would mean he would remain a servant of Birmingham, enabling him to continue to highlight the great contributions the city can make to the rest of the UK.

Jamaicans living in Birmingham have been quick to congratulate Whitby who they say helped shine a positive spotlight on Jamaica as its athletes struck Olympic gold in London last year.

Beverly Lindsay, who chairs the Association of Jamaican Nationals (Birmingham) UK, said: “Mike worked extremely hard to get the athletes here and we appreciate all that he has done. The community will never forget that and we see him as a true friend of Jamaica.

“Through his efforts Jamaica was put in the spotlight in a very positive way – it gave us dignity and respect.”

In 2004, Whitby became Birmingham’s first Conservative leader in 20 years and led for eight years during which he was a key player in several major projects including the New Street Station redevelopment and Library of Birmingham.

But he credits strengthening the relationship between Birmingham and Jamaica as one of his greatest achievements.


BRUMMY BOLT: The Jamaican arrives in Birmingham last year at the country's base camp for the Olympics (PA)

He said: “Forever more, Jamaica has a friend in Lord Whitby.”

“The day Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir ‘bigged up’ Birmingham to the world and thanked the city after their Olympic win was a moment in my life I will never forget.

“And I see part of my new role as representing Birmingham Jamaicans within the House of Lords. My aim is to continue to strengthen our great bond.”

Three months ago Sir Patrick Linton Allen, Governor General of Jamaica, visited Birmingham to personally thank Whitby and the University of Birmingham, which hosted the island’s track and field team for two weeks before the Games.

During an appreciation lunch at Birmingham’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, Earl Jarrett, general manager of the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) which hosted the event, congratulated Whitby for his “infectious enthusiasm”.

He said: “Mike executed a vision with the late Howard Aris, our former President of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (AAA) which led to successful trade missions between the two countries and the sensational five-day Jamaica in the Square event in Birmingham.”

Aris’ sudden death in November 2011 was a great shock to Whitby, who said at the time: “Howard was the first friend I made in the long journey we took together to make Birmingham the Olympic training home for Jamaica’s athletes.

“I owe him so much and we still had so much to plan together for 2012. His legacy will be the monumental bridge he helped to build between Birmingham and Jamaica.”

Aris and Whitby made history in February 2010 when they signed the deal in Birmingham for the athletes to train in the city.

At the time Aris said: “Birmingham is our best choice because the African Caribbean people who have lived in this city for generations will make our athletes feel part of that family. This is what sets Birmingham apart.”

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