LESLEY Scott-Boutell is not your average incoming mayor. 

On May 22 she will become Colchester’s 191st mayor as she joins a long list of names to take on the illustrious role. 

When the Gazette meets Lesley ahead of her taking office she is boasting purple layers in her hair, Doc Marten ankle boots and a ‘deafness is my superpower’ badge. 

The Stanway ward councillor said: "I’ve decided to wear this ‘deafness is my superpower’ badge because it’s a real ice breaker.

“When I meet people for the first time, they can see it. It’s also encouraging people to come up to me, and then we can talk about it. I get it, and I understand it.”

Lesley was born with hearing and learnt how to speak as a child.

Aggressive ear infections were the start of her hearing loss, but she had no idea how impaired her hearing was until she “spectacularly failed” the hearing test to join the armed forces at 21 years old.

For Lib Dem councillor Lesley, who was first elected in 2002, it means having to work harder to keep up with her peers. 

Lesley said: “I’m watching the room, reading body language, lip reading… I can’t read and write when I’m in a meeting because as soon as I look down, I’ve lost what you’re saying.

“Nobody chooses any sort of illness or disability. I have to work really hard. But it’s part of who I am.”

Lesley is thought to have made history by being the first person in the world to have both a middle ear implant where hearing aids are surgically implanted and a BAHA, a bone anchored hearing aid, which uses vibrations in the skill to transmit sound.

Lesley also works with RAD, the Royal Association for Deaf people, who recently held a deaf awareness day for Colchester Council.

“I was sat front and centre,” Lesley said. “It was really, really positive, and from that and some of the engagements I’ve been on, I know people want to understand.”

Lesley explained there are many stereotypes about deafness that she battles.

“People assume I’m stupid because my ears don’t work,” Lesley said.

“But the best compliment I ever had was years ago, and it was from a now-retired highways engineer who said to me: ‘Thank goodness you’re deaf. I realise how much of your brain is used to compute and communicate, and if you were hearing and you didn’t have to do that, I wouldn’t stand a chance.’

"And I thought, he really gets it.”

Lesley who learned to sign decides not to use it in her day to day life but admits people expect her to. 

She said: “There’s no such thing as the deafness fairy, she doesn’t come along and sprinkle magic dust over you so that when you wake up, you’re fluent in sign language!”

“There’s a lot of misconceptions that if you’re deaf, you can sign. And that’s really not the case. I did stage one and stage two, but I don’t sign daily, and you use it or lose it.

“But having said that, I’m lucky I’m in a position where I can talk.

“I can talk to people, and influence, and challenge. Legislation has caught up a long way, but there’s still casual ableism. But it’s fine; I can deal with that.”

There are upsides; Lesley recalled how when she used to work as a radio operator, when there was interference on the calls, she was the one who could still understand.

She said: “Because I’m so used to filling in the gaps, I could make sense of what was being said. The other upside is if you’re out shopping and there’s a screaming baby, I can switch it off.”

There have also been humorous times, when she’s been in a meeting and there’s been a function held upstairs, and all she can hear through her system is YMCA.

“It can be funny,” she laughed, “But you just keep going. I enjoy what I do.”

Lesley said that as she learnt how to speak as a child, her speech patterns are quite normal; but she does find it difficult to judge how loud she’s speaking.

“I think I’m whispering but everybody can hear me, which has got me into all sorts of trouble!”

Lesley says she has enjoyed being councillor for Stanway.

She said, “One of the things I value is that I know so many people. We still have a lot of the core village community, which is nice, because all anybody ever really wants is to belong somewhere—that’s what I think.

“When I step up to be mayor, it won’t just be Stanway I’ll be looking after. It’ll be everybody in Colchester, and that is really important to me.

"And one of the most important things about being the mayor for me is raising awareness. Health wise, I’ve had an interesting background.”

In 2008, Lesley was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which was “a bolt from the blue” and came at an already difficult time.

“I owe my life to a doctor who completely ignored me when I said I was fine and could put up with a bit of pain," she said.

"He got me checked, and luckily—because it’s one of the hidden cancers, but we caught it early—got me the diagnosis.”

Lesley was passed over to the Royal London Hospital, where she had surgery to remove part of her stomach.

She sometimes suffers side effects as a result of the surgery, but she is quickly given treatment if she starts to show symptoms of the cancer again.

“My cancer nurse said she could count on one hand how many people had recovered like I had,” Lesley said.

“So when things are challenging, I just think I’m so lucky. We all know someone who has passed because of one of the hidden cancers. It gives you a different outlook on life.

“I’m not terribly formal. I use humour a lot because it can completely calm the situation down. I’m known for wearing my Doc Martens and I’ve got purple hair.”

Since being elected as a councillor in 2002, Lesley has worked hard on both large and small projects for Stanway, one of the most notable being an ongoing project to install a sound barrier to protect residents against the noise of the A12.

She recalled the first meeting she attended, where she hadn’t realised how formal they were and was unable to hear the speaker.

She said: “I was plucking up my courage to say, can you speak a bit louder please? And the answer was, I’m speaking as loud as I can. And I couldn’t even hear the chair call my name.

“I sat there and took it and at the end of the meeting I walked out and burst into tears of sheer frustration thinking, how am I going to do this?

“And then I found the former chief executive director and said I’m so sorry. And he said: ‘Don’t you ever apologise. You have been elected. It’s our job to make sure you can hear so you can do what you’re elec­­­ted to do, which is represent people.’

“I’d never thought of it like this. 'Don’t ever apologise’. And its true.”