Cllr M Ilyas Raja became the new Mayor of Woking at the annual Mayor Making ceremony last night (Thursday 18 May).
After a year serving as Woking’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Raja was first elected to represent the Sheerwater and Maybury ward in 1996 and has since be re-elected six times. Cllr Raja is excited for this next chapter as Mayor which he describes as “a great privilege and honour”.
Born and raised in Kashmir, nicknamed ‘paradise on earth’, Cllr Raja moved to Woking in 1984. Surrey reminded him of Kashmir thanks to its outstanding natural beauty.
Cllr M Ilyas Raja, Mayor of Woking, said: “My family is from a military background. My father was in the British Army and participated in both World Wars. He always put a high value on education and encouraged my siblings and I to get a degree and carve a career for ourselves.
“My eldest brother was a leading lawyer and I followed in his footsteps and read law at university. After passing the legal exams in the 1970s, I joined the legal profession and became an advocate.
“I remained in the legal profession until I left for the United Kingdom in 1984 where I became an advisor for the Ethnic Minority Advice Centre in Wimbledon. My role was to give people the knowledge and confidence they needed to find their way forward. I supported witnesses in courts and provided advice and guidance regarding the benefits system.
“Later, I made the decision to become a councillor because I believed I could make a real differnce to the local community and wider society. I feel privileged and honoured to be supporting residents with local issues, shaping the community by driving new ideas and initiatives.
“One of my greatest achievements thus far was a project named Woking Rise, that supported underachieving children at Bishop David Brown School.”
Cllr Raja has five children and two young grandchildren who he describes like to keep him and his wife busy and active!
Outside of work, our new Mayor is a keen sportsman. Talking about his hobbies, Cllr Raja added, “I’ve always been into sports, particularly cricket and badminton and was a member of the Government Degree College Mirpur Cricket and Badminton Team. I loved badminton so much that when my own children were only toddlers, I taught them how to play in our back garden.
“Today, I am an active member of Woking Park Bowls Club and a keen hiker. In 2022 I completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, raising more than £1,800 for St. Peters Hospital Maternity Unit. I enjoy fundraising and volunteering my time for various charities, it gives me great pleasure and satisfaction.”
During his Mayoral year, Cllr Raja has chosen to support and raise funds for the Friends of Woking Community Hospital, supporting the soon-to-be diagnostic centre on Heathside Road. The charity was founded in 1970 and has since raised a million pounds for the hospital.
Speaking about his choice, Cllr Raja added, “One of the most amazing things about Britain is our National Health Service. In Kashmir there is no NHS so it makes me appreciate our health care system so much more – two of my children now work within the NHS too.
“I believe our NHS should be protected as a priority and for this reason, I’ve chosen to support Woking Community Hospital during my Mayoral year. The hospital is about to become a Diagnostic Centre, bringing life-saving diagnostic facilities and crucial care closer to home. I’ll do my utmost the raise funds to help with the coming changes.”
During the Mayor Making ceremony, Cllr Louise Morales was appointed Deputy Mayor for for the ensuing year.
Watch the annual Mayor Making ceremony online.
To keep up to date with the Mayor’s activities, visit www.woking.gov.uk/mayor or follow @wokingmayor on Facebook and Twitter.