Honorary Alderman titles awarded to long-serving councillors

This story was published 17 November 2022

Six former councillors have received recognition for a total of almost 150 years of service to England’s largest county by being awarded Honorary Aldermen status.

From left, Peter Sowray MBE, Helen Swiers, Jill McMullon and Cliff Trotter, who were in attendance at yesterday’s extraordinary meeting.

The position of Honorary Alderman has parity of status with a past Mayor, enabling those who receive the title to be invited to the same civic functions and events.

Among those elected at an extraordinary meeting of North Yorkshire County Council yesterday (Wednesday, 16 November) was long-serving Yorkshire Dales councillor John Blackie, who was honoured posthumously following 22 years of continuous service up until his death in July 2019.

During this time he was chair of the county council’s scrutiny of health committee, campaigning to maintain specialist services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

He was a passionate campaigner for the remote Upper Dales communities having set up the Upper Wensleydale Community Office in Hawes. By adapting the library for other purposes, Hawes became the county council’s first community library.

Just one week before his death, John Blackie spearheaded a partnership with Newcastle Building Society to retain banking services in the community office following the announcement that the last bank in the town was to close. The society has since opened a banking hub in Knaresborough library.

John Blackie proudly became the postmaster when the Post Office decided to close its branch in Hawes, and established The Little White Bus amid cuts to the local bus service network. When the petrol station was threatened with closure, the Upper Dales Community Partnership, of which he was director, kept it going - becoming the first community petrol station in the country.

Jill McMullon, who was John Blackie’s partner and picked up the award on his behalf, said: “I’m delighted to accept this award. Whilst John was never interested in accolades for himself, I think it is fitting to accept this and in doing so I will dedicate it to the people in the Upper Dales who John was so proud to represent.”

Five former councillors were elected as retiring members including Val Arnold, a Conservative who represented the Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside ward from 2001 to 2022 and was appointed chair in 2016.

“I am delighted to accept this award,” said Mrs Arnold. “It has been a pleasure to represent all of the residents in the division. I have very much enjoyed working with my fellow councillors and staff and wish them all the best for the future of the new council.”

Caroline Patmore, a Conservative who represented the Stillington ward from 1997 to 2022, has also been given the title. During this time, she served as the executive member for children’s services for nine years.

“I’ve always had a love for the area and the local villages in my ward,” said Mrs Patmore. “I really enjoyed my time as a councillor and the opportunity it gave me to forge relationships with the people I represented.

“My work was inspired by the beautiful North York Moors National Park and all the fantastic work that goes on. I also funded local initiatives such as improvements to the village hall which I’m really proud of.”

Peter Sowray MBE, a Conservative who represented Easingwold from 1989 to 2022, has also been given the accolade. He was a member of the highways committee in 1993, chairman of the planning committee and served as council chairman in 2008. He chaired the new environmental services committee, a role he held until 2000 and then became the executive member for business and environmental services.

“I have some very good memories of being on the council,” said Mr Sowray. “During my year as chairman I had the honour of meeting Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh over lunch at the Great Yorkshire Show and I met Princess Anne at an event in Easingwold. I’m very proud of my contribution to North Yorkshire life.”

Also honoured was Helen Swiers, a Conservative who, from 2001 to 2022, represented Scalby and the Coast, the Esk Valley division and latterly Filey. She served as council chair in 2017 and said: “It has been a privilege to serve the people of North Yorkshire and I wish the new North Yorkshire Council every success in its future endeavors.”

Cliff Trotter, a Conservative who represented Pannal and Lower Wharfedale from 1997 to 2022, has been awarded the title of Honorary Alderman. He served as chairman in 2012. During the meeting he spoke of his “honour” in accepting the award, adding his “time on the council has been really enjoyable”.

Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “With a combined service of almost 150 years, these six councillors have spent a major part of their lives working to champion their local communities and causes close to their hearts.

“John Blackie’s legacy lives on in the Upper Dales and in the minds of myself and other councillors who had the privilege of working alongside him. He worked tirelessly to ensure that local services continue to be delivered despite the pressures that rural communities face.

“It's testament to their drive and commitment as ward councillors that the retiring members have been awarded Honorary Aldermen titles.”

Following the death of chairman Cllr Margaret Atkinson over the weekend, certificates of office for the new Honorary Alderman were presented by Cllr David Ireton, who was deputy chairman.