Former homeless man becomes city’s Lord Mayor 

A former rough sleeper who has battled mental health issues and now champions against the stigma has become Bristol’s lord mayor – and then got engaged minutes later to his longtime partner.

Labour’s Cllr Paul Goggin promised to “recognise the unrecognised” during his year in the ceremonial role as “first citizen”.

He was sworn in during the annual full council meeting of Bristol City Council on May 9, and, during the interval, proposed to Deborah Griffiths, his girlfriend of 17 years, in the lord mayor’s parlour before returning to tell the chamber she had said yes.

The Hartcliffe & Withywood ward councillor succeeds Green Cllr Paula O’Rourke, who becomes deputy lord mayor.

In his acceptance speech, Cllr Goggin outlined his chequered life, from growing up in London and dropping out of school because “life happens to us all” to sleeping rough in Bristol.

“In no particular order, I’ve built motorbikes, sold investment grade diamonds, been a croupier in a smoky casino and gone door to door selling carpet cleaner.

“I moved to Bristol in 2003 but in 2005 I became homeless through no fault of my own and had to sleep on the streets and sofa-surfed with friends.

“Then Bristol Council stepped in to help me. I lived in emergency accommodation for six months, alongside refugees, asylum seekers and other unfortunate Bristolians. “It was a difficult time to say the least and I saw things that would make the devil blush.”

He said local mental health charity Second Step helped him find temporary accommodation before he moved into a council bungalow in Knowle West where he still lived.

“And, as some of you know from my previous speeches in this room, I live with bipolar disorder and complex PTSD,” Cllr Goggin said. “In a way they don’t hamper me, they enable me to think slightly differently from most others – my secret superpower.

“I also have chronic anxiety, and I can’t put into words how difficult this is today because I’m talking about myself.But we must keep speaking out about our mental health issues, not be ashamed or embarrassed – own it, normalise it to fight against the stigma so many suffer from.”

Tabling the motion for Cllr Goggin to become lord mayor, Labour group leader Cllr Steve Pearce said that for many of the eight centuries the position existed, it was reserved for Bristol’s elite.

“Anyone who knows Paul will know that that label doesn’t quite apply to him,” he said.

“He’s been very open about his past and it’s why there’s nobody better suited to becoming Bristol’s first citizen, someone who truly understands the lives of all Bristolians, especially those that are underrepresented in the council chamber.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service