The biggest ever conversation in North Yorkshire is under way to help to shape priorities for vital services for everyone across the county.

Our Let’s Talk events and online engagement began this week.

We want to gather the views of thousands of residents and businesses to help to form the bedrock for decision-making and policies for the new North Yorkshire Council, which will launch next spring.

The county council and seven district and borough councils will merge in the biggest restructuring of local government in the county for nearly 50 years. Having one council will save millions of pounds by streamlining services and avoiding duplication. This money can support services so they are stronger and fit for the future, and fund local decision-making.

The new council will be the largest geographically in the country, but will have local at the heart of everything it does.

Working locally is the first topic for discussion in our Let’s Talk campaign. Teams from all eight councils are going out and about gathering the public’s views on how the new authority can best support local needs.

We want to listen to what matters to you where you live – whether that is education, affordable housing, climate change, public transport or something else.

And we are coming to talk to you where you meet – in the high street and at the market, in libraries and local groups. Conversations will follow about money and the new council’s budget, as well as the proposed devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire, subject to councillors giving the go-ahead.

We value your views and want to listen to them, so please join the Let’s Talk conversation. Many events are planned.

Check the full listings of events or join the conversation online.

Below, read views from business people, families, volunteers and others from around the county on what matters to them.

Chris Hailey-Norris has worked in the voluntary and community sector for more than 30 years.

However, it was in 2009 when his involvement with the Selby District Associations of Voluntary Service started.

What was going to be six days of consultancy work led to Chris becoming the chief officer of the Selby District Associations of Voluntary Service – a role he describes as his dream job. The Selby District Associations of Voluntary Service provides key services and support to the residents and communities of the Selby area.

When asked what he likes the most about the Selby area, he highlighted its beauty: “It is a beautiful place to visit, it’s welcoming, refreshing, and delightful – there is so much to see and do, I am constantly exploring, meeting new people, and sharing new ideas.”

He praised the people and community spirit and said: “I love the can-do attribute, energy, and passion people have for where they live. Community is the heart of Selby and we saw that during the pandemic. Seeing how we all worked together to support one another was amazing.”

Chris Hailey-Norris in front of a window in Selby

What would he like to see the new council focus on?

“Transport – we have a real challenge getting people where they need to be. This is a rural place with many villages – we need better transport, such as more buses.

“As a new council I would like to see inclusivity – everyone’s voice must be heard no matter who they are or where they are from. People want to be involved and help shape and create solutions for their communities.

“I would also like to see the new council embrace Selby’s fantastic qualities. Selby offers vitality, ideas and creativeness which is unmatchable. Together the new council can be fantastic and achieve greatness by celebrating and appreciating the richness of the people who live in this county.”

Mark Williamson is the property manager of four much-loved English Heritage sites in North Yorkshire – Whitby Abbey, Scarborough Castle, Pickering Castle and Kirkham Priory.

He has lived in Whitby since 2019 with his partner, Merry, who is self-employed and works from home. They both think it is important to live in the town where they work.

“You get the true vibe of what’s going on, which you don’t necessarily get living far away,” Mark Williamson said.

His enthusiasm for the richness of the changing seasons on the coast and the varied wildlife he sees on land and at sea, is clear. Regularly spotting dolphins and minke whales riding the waves is a particular favourite pastime outside of his busy work schedule.

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson is also passionate about Whitby’s strong historical links to seafaring and Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. He sees tourism continuing to be very important for North Yorkshire’s economic prosperity and that of the wider region, and he would like to see a big focus on it by the new council.

Revealing that Whitby Abbey’s recent successful attempt to gather the highest number of people dressed as a vampire in one place attracted people from California and Australia, is just one example, Mr Williamson firmly believes, of how important visitors are to Whitby.

At the same time, he acknowledges that tourism needs to work for local residents too so that all parts of the town see the benefits. He would like the new council to put green tourism, and the infrastructure needed to support it, high up on its agenda.

“It’s a very important issue, which if not looked at carefully will mean we are left behind other areas,” Mark Williamson.

He sees ongoing investment in park and ride facilities and the installation of high-speed electric vehicle charging points as critical for the future.

Technology and environmental specialists AmbaSat are one of the innovative businesses based in Northallerton’s C4DI community.

Rather than leave the town where it all started, co-founders Martin Platt and Marcel Houtveen, with business operations manager Khurram Hussain, spread their wings into the area’s newest business centre, Treadmills, part of the regenerated prison site, with a mission to give every student, engineer and explorer an opportunity to build and launch their own satellite.

“We’ve joined C4DI because we see it as a real powerhouse of inspiration and support,” said Martin. “What we’ve lacked in the past is a strong network and the ability to call upon a solid pool of resources to drive the business forward. C4DI has those qualities in spades, and having that facility in Northallerton is the icing on the cake.

“The support from C4DI and the local council is pivotal in AmbaSat’s goal to develop and retain Northallerton skills and expertise in creating a global space platform. The new unitary council will further enable AmbaSat to nurture those skills and help to retain and develop local expertise in space, robotics and advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and space exploration.

AmbaSat’s mission is to inspire our next generation to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, mathematics, engineering and environmental) industry and more specifically the growing space sector here in the UK, working within education to make space accessible to all.”

Martin Platt

In 2019, from a small base in Northallerton, AmbaSat launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to develop the first “miniature” space satellite called AmbaSat-1. This tiny satellite kit can be assembled, coded and launched onboard a commercial rocket into low Earth orbit.

There it can conduct a range of studies, such as monitoring CO2 emissions, evaluating UV exposure and radiation, monitoring gas emissions, measuring temperature and humidity, and gathering GPS location data.

Learn more about AmbaSat.

Rebecca Hall has lived in Nawton for more than 20 years and has been a schoolteacher working across North Yorkshire for 30 years.

She has also had a gardening business for 10 years. Community is something that has always been important to Rebecca, and she realised the benefit of a strong community during lockdown.

She explained: “I realised that there were people in my village, lonely in their own homes, and I didn’t know who they were. I grew up in a community where everyone looked out for each other and wanted to do what I could to bring that connection back.”

She set out to develop a stronger community connection in Nawton. She and a group of like-minded neighbours organised litter picks with support from Ryedale Environment Group to bring people together. That led to coffee mornings, game sessions, planting flowers and a knit and natter.

Rebecca Hall

She produces a village newsletter, The Village Green, to which local people contribute. She currently funds the newsletter herself, supplemented by donations from Nawton Parish Council, the Kirkbymoorside Fruit Project and local businesses. A community survey showed that biodiversity, climate change and the environment, recycling, road safety, cleaner neighbourhoods and connection are key priorities.

She said: “The new council for North Yorkshire should focus on the community and environment. It should inform, educate and lead by example on the issues that matter to us. We need less red tape and more empowerment for local people.

“People have got all skills and abilities in Nawton to work together and support each other to make a difference. A strong community connection will empower us to use these skills for good.”

For Ruth Fairchild, Scarborough has been home for more than three decades. The retired accountant and adult education tutor has lived in the town with her husband for 32 years.

The couple said that the beautiful setting of their seaside home is one of the biggest attractions to living in Scarborough, and they are big fans of the local music scene.

Ruth Fairchild volunteers at the Stephen Joseph Theatre shop and helps to run Scarborough Community Fridge with 20 other volunteers.

“It’s not necessarily about poverty,” she said. “It’s about food waste.” The team collects 300 kilogrammes of unsold food from shops each week and distributes it, for free, to anyone who needs it. They have plans to take the project further, to provide store cupboard essentials and develop recipe cards.

“There is a need to link groups like ours with education on basic cooking skills, which have almost disappeared in some communities,” Ruth Fairchild said. “I know it’s asking a lot of the new council to get involved, but there must be a way to coordinate.”

Ruth Fairchild

She is passionate about cutting back on waste in general and recycling, reusing and repurposing. She did express concerns about the geographical size that the new council will cover and the challenge that councillors will face in influencing how resources are allocated locally.

However, senior councillors have committed to ensure that the new authority listens to the views of residents across North Yorkshire to ensure that localism remains at the heart of the council, which launches on April 1 next year.

After experiencing different business models during her career, Ruth Fairchild says: “Big is not always beautiful. If you lose the connection between decision makers and those who know about the local environment, you lose an awful lot.”

Ruth Fairchild sees more affordable housing as critical to Scarborough’s future. She wants the new council to strike a balance between big infrastructure developments, and support for smaller businesses and residents struggling to achieve a good quality of life. Her final ask is that the new council listens to all residents, not just the vocal few.

Skipton’s Business Improvement District manager, Sarah Howsen, was born and brought up in the town. Educated at local schools, she moved away after university, only to return “home” four years ago.

Speaking at the start of Let’s Talk, she said: “Skipton has everything that you need. You can come into town and you have your butchers, your bakers, your vibrant high street, you’ve got the picturesque walks, the award-winning cafes/restaurants, the good public transport – everything you need is in a walkable distance.

“Tourists from far and wide visit the town as it is renowned for its bustling market and famous Skipton Castle. We have a number of independent businesses – not many high street chains. People love supporting local and independent businesses as they offer a unique and personal shopping experience.

“In addition, I feel the education offered by schools and colleges in Craven, particularly Skipton, is top class. Looking ahead, it would be great to see more facilities for young people and things for them to do.

“I’m looking forward to the implementation of the new council as it will reduce duplication and complexities. However, I’m conscious that the voices of local communities are always heard and represented in any local decision-making processes and we are not forgotten about or overlooked when compared to nearby towns.

“I would like to see the distinctive character of our rural district always recognised and I’m glad the Let’s Talk campaign is giving the public an insight and opportunity to learn more about the council and how it will represent us equally at local level. With the centralisation of power from April, I hope the support for the delivery of local services – be it council tax or emptying the bins – is stronger and fit for the future.”

Sarah Howsen