Chairman’s message of hope as he is re-elected

County Councillor Jim Clark, whose ambitions for his year as chairman of the authority were severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, is to remain in the role until next May.

Cllr Clark

Following the disruption to his year in office, Cllr Clark was re-elected at today’s (Wednesday, 22 July) full County Council meeting.

Cllr Clark, who represents Harrogate Harlow division and was first elected in 2001, began his new period in office with a message of hope and optimism that reflects the values he brought to the post in May last year.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed many of his ambitions for his first year as chairman, not least a series of events and projects based around the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

But what he saw in the run-up to those cancelled, or at least postponed, events made him optimistic about the county’s ability to come through the current crisis. He finds his hope for the future in the way the world successfully overcame the trials of the past.

He said: “In February this year I found myself at a Holocaust Day event at which I introduced to each other a survivor of Auschwitz, Arek Hersh, and English Second World War soldier Sheila Pantin, who was involved in helping survivors at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This was one of the most momentous occasions of my year as chairman and one of the most extraordinary events of my life.

“I build my optimism and hope for the future on the fact that I introduced these two people who had been through an even more incredible experience than the one we’re facing now. They were both over 90 years old, yet they were survivors and they were able to tell their story to future generations.”

One of Cllr Clark’s VE Day projects was a video archive of reminiscences of those who lived through the war. Before the pandemic halted it, initial interviews with Sheila and Arek were conducted by students from Harrogate High School, with support from Cllr Clark’s locality grant.

Cllr Clark also finds hope and optimism in the strength of the ordinary people of North Yorkshire, doing extraordinary things, along with health service employees, council staff and other key workers who have come to the forefront during the pandemic.

In May 2019, he stated that one of his ambitions was to get out and about to meet people and attend events in all 68 divisions in North Yorkshire that make up the County Council. Despite the restrictions of recent months, he succeeded in visiting 60 of them. The extension to his time in office will enable him to complete the visits that were halted by the pandemic.

He said when he first took office: “We have great communities all over North Yorkshire doing great work to support the county, its economy, its children and young people, its older and vulnerable people.”

The wonderful response of communities throughout the pandemic has confirmed that belief and the validity of his VE Day theme, that we succeed when we stand together.

“I want to thank all the people I had the pleasure of meeting as chairman in the first part of my year as chairman, especially the volunteers and carers, and all those who have stepped up to help their neighbours since the start of this pandemic.

“It goes to show that we are much better and stronger when we stand together.

“I will continue to take this work forward in the coming months. Let all of us of every age commit to:

  • stand together in remembrance and thanksgiving;
  • stand together against hate and prejudice; and
  • stand together to build stronger communities.

“This will allow us to face the future with strength and confidence.”

Another of Cllr Clark’s priorities was to promote the cultural life of the county, particularly performing arts. This included meeting the staff who run the county’s three professional theatres, the 20th century Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, the 18th century Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond and the 19th century Victorian Harrogate Theatre.

“Together with the other venues throughout the county, these are great theatres and we need each of them now more than ever,” he said. “We must never underestimate the transforming power of the performing arts in bringing people together and they are key to us confronting isolation and loneliness in the future.”

He points out that the county is home to two of our greatest living playwrights, Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough and Alan Bennett in Clapham.

When he took on the role of County Council chairman, Cllr Clark noted that he was the first Scotsman to hold the position, although the county already had a Lord Lieutenant who comes from Scotland in Jo Ropner, and the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, was born in Scotland.

The new deputy chairman is Cllr Stuart Martin, who represents the Ripon South division.

This story was published 22 July 2020