From one Bedford to another as USA towns forge links with our hometown

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Jake Sampson at City of Bedford
Jake Sampson at City of Bedford. Image: Jake Sampson

While Bedford, Bedfordshire might be the original, and dare we say the best, there are many other towns called Bedford across the world, with ten in the USA alone.

Now, one local man is on a mission to visit as many as he can and help strengthen links between them all.

Jake Sampson, who is also a Liberal Democrat councillor in the Borough, took a self-funded trip earlier this year to meet people from these ‘newer’ Bedford towns and cities and has written about his experiences for Bedford Independent readers.


As some may be aware, I am the youngest ever elected Councillor to Bedford Borough Council at the age of 21, an achievement which I don’t think I will be able to top for the rest of my life.

The reason I entered politics at such an early age was that I wanted to give back to a town and community which has given so much to me.

Recently, one way I have been able to give back to Bedford is by visiting a number of other Bedfords in the U.S, visiting members of the Bedford Democratic Alliance, which is a group containing liberal politicians from 15 different Bedfords around the world.

The Bedford Democratic Alliance was formed by Andrew Mizsak, who is the Senior Democratic Leader at City of Bedford and Village of Walton Hlls, Ohio.

Andrew started the Alliance because he knew that there were already a few connections between the different Bedfords around the world but nothing official or concrete.

With the pandemic happening Andrew thought that there has never been a more appropriate time to form a group to communicate and help each other where needed.

Andrew Mizsak, Senior Democratic Leader at City of Bedford and Village of Walton Hlls, Ohio. Image: Jake Sampson
Andrew Mizsak, Senior Democratic Leader at City of Bedford and Village of Walton Hlls, Ohio. Image: Jake Sampson

The Alliance started at a very peculiar time and is now a collective of very interesting and capable individuals, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experiences from all around the world.

Six days five Bedords

My visit consisted of six days of travelling to different Bedford communities between the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The first Bedford that I visited was Bedford Township in Michigan, a small quaint town off the west coast of Lake Erie, neighbouring the larger town of Toledo, Ohio.

A lovely area of the state surrounded by gorgeous countryside just like ours.

This Bedford was not originally in the plan and was an impulsive stop-off. For this Bedford, Andrew and I paid a visit to the town’s local government centre, where we met heads of departments and staff members who gave us an insight into the operations of the centre.

It was a short but interesting first stop.

The following day we arrived in the City of Bedford Heights but in Ohio this time, a Bedford which is the most like our Bedford in the UK.

The first thing we did when we arrived was meet the heads of departments in a group meeting, discussing the town’s general aims and objectives for the coming months, which was being chaired by Mayor Fletcher D. Berger at the City of Bedford Municipal Building.

Listening in on this meeting was very interesting as I started to piece together the similarities and differences that this local authority has compared to ours.

Financial recovery after the pandemic, stabilizing care homes and medical centres so people can get adequate health care, innovating transport links to tackle the climate crisis, and bringing more businesses to the town to increase employment whilst supporting small, local businesses.

This discussion just grabbed my full attention and it quickly turned into a Q&A which ran on for a while because they were just as interested in hearing what I had to say as I did for them.

After this, I met with Mayor Berger to discuss local policy, cultural differences, and the importance of the climate crisis.

Jake Sampson and Mayor Berger. Image: Jake Sampson
Jake Sampson and Mayor Berger. Image: Jake Sampson

One thing that I really appreciated hearing from Mayor Berger was that “no matter the political stance you take, you must work and lead within an authority to make sure the next generation has a lighter load to bear.”

This hit home for me on several levels because that is why I and so many other people are in politics, to help make sure the future of your neighbourhood, town, city, or country has a brighter future ahead of it.

The Harpur Trust

I then headed to the Bedford Historical Museum, a unique gem within the township, showcasing the car industry which created a car culture within the town, along with exhibits based on the schools and colleges, local businesses, and presidential visits through the years.

At the end of my tour, I was handed The Harpur Trust 1552 – 1973 written by Joyce Godber.

At first, I was stunned to see the words ‘Harpur Trust’ and the traveller within me started to scream “that’s from my Bedford”.

Slightly confused and intrigued by this book, I started to read and learnt that a group of students from the Bedford High School made a trip to Bedford UK to work with the Harpur Trust and to study Bedford and Bedfordshire in the UK.

The next part of my day was a tour around the City of Bedford itself, visiting the equivalent of their high street and town centre, popping in and out of the local shops and meeting the locals.

It was a great experience to have, and one thing I noticed was the diversity of the population, religion, and culture.

From Italian delis and pizzerias to big grand and beautiful mosques neighbouring eastern European community centres. It just goes to show that it’s not just our Bedford in the UK which welcomes all walks of life.

This was now my 4th day on what I would call a wildly interesting and unique expedition around the different Bedfords of the U.S, and today was the day to go to the biggest of the Ohio cities called Bedford.

The city of Bedford is one of many in the state of Ohio but today I was visiting Bedford City Hall to spend some time with Vice Mayor Vic Fluharty, City Manager Mike Mallis, public workers Superintendent Shawn Francis, and Law Director John Montello.

A great group of individuals with such a wide range of experiences over several different years, all creating a very capable team which is working hard together to get the best results.

The Harpur Trust 1552 - 1973 by Joyce Godber. Image: Jake Sampson
The Harpur Trust 1552 – 1973 by Joyce Godber. Image: Jake Sampson

Speaking to City Manager Mike Mallis was one of my highlights of the visit, as he is an individual who oversees a large amount of the operations that are carried out in City Hall.

It’s a massive responsibility which requires a large amount of dedication to making sure the work you do gets the best results for their residents.

Shared environmental concerns

Speaking with Mike was educational and enlightening, we found common ground on the topic of the environment and climate change, discussing how to get all Bedford-owned buildings such as the libraries to be carbon neutral, and to create public transport links which have zero impact on the environment.

The continuous exchange of experience, information and ideas motivated both of us massively as we both realised that we are on the same page on these issues.

Some people may describe these sorts of conversations as wishful thinking, a term I hear too often, but I think that is completely ignorant to think this.

It is necessary to think outside the box and these conversations are what local authorities should be having all around the world.

Feeling like I had really earnt my Bedfordian badge, it was time to start the final days of the trip and venture outside the Bedfords.

First was a visit to the University of Akron to deliver lectures to two classes, Comparative Politics and World Politics and Government taught by Dr. Ronald Gelleny.

This was my way of giving back on the trip, as I have previously lectured around the UK.

I wanted to do the same on this trip to be able to engage with the next generation on what it’s like working in local government in the UK, the impacts of Brexit and covid, along with the current political environment in the UK now.

It was a very rewarding experience as the students asked several questions from what the hardest part of working in local government is, to what the best part of living in Bedford, UK is.

Next was a trip to the town of Parma to meet with the Mayor, Tim DeGeeter and visit the Ukrainian Village in the town along with Matthew Diemer, congressman candidate for the 7th district of Ohio.

This was an important part of the trip because Andrew, Candidate Diemer, Mayor Tim and I used this time to communicate with the Ukrainian community to give support where we could.

Jake Sampson sitting in the seat of the chairman of the City of Bedford Council & councilman Andrew Mizsak sitting where his mother sat when she was in power Image: Jake Sampson
Jake Sampson sitting in the seat of the chairman of the City of Bedford Council & councilman Andrew Mizsak sitting where his mother sat when she was in power Image: Jake Sampson

Visiting the local businesses, churches and community centres was a real privilege and being able to work within that team, to give any assistance I could, was incredibly rewarding.

Baseball

Towards the end of my time with Andrew, I was able to get right into the American culture, at the Progressive Field Stadium home to the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, who were up against the White Sox from Chicago.

A big game as they are close rivals and with the White Sox being high up in the league, it was great to see the underdog Guardians beat them.

After this was another impromptu diversion in our plan to one of the Bedford fire stations.

This was a lot of fun as we got to meet the team, check out the whole of their HQ, and I got to satisfy the child in me and sit in a fire truck.

This may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but I hope it isn’t.

The point of the Alliance is to be able to build a bridge between our Bedfords so there is a reason to visit, and this is just not something the Alliance wants to keep to themselves but to share with the rest of the communities no matter which Bedford you are from.

This article is just a teaspoon of information about my visit, there was so much more myself and Andrew have done to help solidify relations between Bedfords.

Jake Sampson in a Bedford Fire Truck. Image: Jake Sampson
Jake Sampson in a Bedford Fire Truck. Image: Jake Sampson

Hopefully, the future holds great things for the Alliance and all Bedfords across the world, but we are only able to do this if Bedfordians in these towns get involved, so if you think there is something to offer to help build the bridges then please get in touch.

Helping Bedfords thrive

Finally, I just want to end with a big thank you to Andrew. To be able to work with him was a real pleasure thanks to his generosity, professionalism, and kindness. I consider him a friend for life.

Andrew and I seemed to have crossed paths at the right time in our lives as we were both struggling with the loss of loved ones in the recent weeks before my visit.

For Andrew, he lost his mother who was an elected councilwoman at the city of Bedford council, known for the outstanding work she did for her community for over 25 years.

For me, it was my grandad, someone I was extremely close to, and he contributed massively to me getting into politics in the first place.

With saying that, I suppose the bittersweetness of it is that for Andrew and me, we are just extremely grateful we got to have them in our lives as it brought us together.

It started the Alliance, it made us individuals who wanted to help others, and it made us want to help our respective Bedfords thrive.

This is what it’s all about, being able to create a relationship between Bedfords so the next generation can benefit too.

Edited from an original article
by Jake Sampson

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