Two Lewes mayors came together from either side of the Atlantic Ocean for a recent chat about the similarities and differences of their respective towns.
Local Lewes Mayor Ted Becker and Mayor John Lamb of Lewes, England, joined co-hosts Keith Hayes and Melissa Winton for a half-hour discussion on Mirador Television. They covered a variety of topics, including town history, local customs and, inevitably, how each community is handling COVID-19.
This is the first time Lamb and Becker have chatted, but it’s not the first time the two communities have come together.
“I’ve been looking at when letters have been exchanged between the mayors and it’s usually during a disaster … a flood, a hurricane or a snowstorm,” said Lamb, who’s in his second year as mayor of the 17,000-resident town 60 miles south of London. “Through these letters you really get the impression that these two towns are constantly under siege from the elements.”
Becker said the towns have not had regular communication in recent years, but he hopes the interview can open the door to more discussions and possibly a trip to the United Kingdom.
Becker visited Lewes, England, about 20 years ago, before he became a council member and then mayor. Other Delaware community members have ventured across the pond to visit the sister city, including a contingent in 1986 that included, among others, historian Hazel Brittingham, then-Mayor Al Stango and Cape Gazette Co-Publisher Trish Vernon, who wrote for The Whale newspaper at the time.
The relationship is not one-sided. The mayor of Lewes, England, came to Delaware for the city’s 375th anniversary in 2006.
Lewes, England, has a long and storied history. It was taken over by William de Warenne and the Normans in the 11th century. De Warenne, a documented companion of William the Conqueror, built the historic Lewes Castle that still stands today.
Lewes is the county town of Sussex. For administrative purposes, the county was split into East and West Sussex. East Sussex’s county council meets in Lewes, and the town is also home to Sussex Police and the Crown Court, the main court for Sussex.
“Lewes has always punched above its weight,” Lamb said. “Ever since the Normans made it their capital, it’s been a pretty important place. Even though it’s pretty small, we’ve got all these institutions that manage in Lewes.”
Delaware’s Lewes was also once the Sussex County seat of government before the authority was transferred to Georgetown in the late 18th century.
Although it no longer serves in that capacity, Becker said Lewes remains vital to the county and state because of Beebe Healthcare, the county’s largest employer.
While Delaware’s coast battles sea-level rise, climate change and occasional nor’easters and hurricanes, the English counterpart is also dealing with environmental challenges. Lamb said his town is very prone to flooding and recently announced a redevelopment project designed to provide better flood defense.
Like many towns and cities in the U.S., England’s small business community is also struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite several lockdowns, Lamb said most business owners have a positive outlook.
“I would say overall the atmosphere is philosophical,” he said. “They’ve accepted difficulties. Although they’ve had a big hit and some closed their doors, most of them are reasonably optimistic and expect  to hold better things and that they’ll be able to get through it.”
As a way to encourage people to patronize their shops, Lamb said, about 70 local business owners put together a raffle. Shoppers were invited to visit at least five shops, where they would receive a stamp upon purchasing an item. Those who collected at least five stamps were entered into a drawing, with several winners recently announced.
“We’re seeing an upsurge in community spirit,” Lamb said. “The pandemic has brought out the best in people. People are looking after their neighbors and doing their very best. That’s something we haven’t seen in a very long time.”
Like those in England, Becker said, the community in Delaware has rallied together to support each other and the small businesses in town. As far as the business community is concerned, Becker highlighted council’s decision to waive parking meter fees every morning during the meter season, as well as a television commercial campaign that featured dozens of Lewes businesses.
As the conversation ended, each mayor expressed desire to continue dialogue between the two towns.
“I’ve never been to Delaware,” Lamb said. “That’s something I’m looking forward to rectifying when we can travel again. I’ll make it my first stop.”
Becker agreed, going so far as to say he wants to plan a trip with other Lewes residents and representatives sometime after COVID has subsided.
The full conversation can be found at youtube.com/watch?v=DSem5-WGwlI.