Celebrations were thrown at Wentworth Woodhouse in honour of its best-known volunteer.
Julie Kenny DBE, the self-made Rotherham businesswoman whose relentless five-year campaign saved the house for the nation, received a damehood at Buckingham Palace last week.
She was bestowed with the title Dame Commander of the British Empire, the second-highest honour in the land, at an investiture ceremony conducted by Princess Anne.
It was recognition for her crucial role in securing the future of the Grade I listed Georgian stately home in Rotherham, where she is chair of the Preservation Trust tacking its restoration.
Days later, a huge party was staged at the house in Julie’s honour.
Staff, supporters of the trust including trustees and stakeholders, and Julie’s family and friends .
Said Julie, 62: “I was thrilled and humbled to receive this honour at the Palace – it was my second visit there, having received my CBE in 2002 from Prince Charles.
“But equally special for me was celebrating back at Wentworth Woodhouse with everyone. The party couldn’t have been anywhere better. The first time I saw the house I fell in love with it and when I knew that its future was in such dire straits, I was determined to do all in my power to ensure its future for Rotherham and the nation.”
Julie’s damehood was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this summer.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire rewards public service and contributions to the arts, sciences, charities and welfare organisations.
She was nominated for the honour by Deborah Lamb, then Deputy Chief Executive at Historic England. She commented: “Saving one of the most impressive historic buildings in England would not have been possible without Julie Kenny’s determination and commitment. She convinced a wide range of people to support Wentworth Woodhouse and basically made it impossible for them to say no.”
Julie’s determination enabled the trust to purchase the mansion, its stables, riding school, camellia house and 83 acres in March 2017 for £7million following a campaign backed by SAVE British Heritage.
She commented: “I did not achieve this alone; there were many people that helped me along the way and this award recognises our joint achievements.”
She described rescuing the house from decline as one of the most inspiring, yet hardest, challenges of her life.
“Many times I saw in people’s eyes that they thought it could not be achieved. But my view is that nothing is impossible with time and energy and belief.
“But the fight tested everything I had learned throughout my business life. It took hard work, stamina, focus and negotiation skills and above all the resolve never to give up, even when the going got tough – and then extra tough,” added the mother of three who founded a world-leading security system manufacturer in Rotherham and was awarded her CBE for her services to industry in Yorkshire and Humberside.
When WWPT finally moved in, they were met with a critical state of decay at the house which was once grander than Chatsworth and hosted kings and queens. There were buildings riddled with asbestos, collapsed drains, endemic dry rot, leaking roofs and rotting timbers.
With just one phone line, a handful of committed staff and a single vacuum cleaner, it began the task of raising the phoenix from the ashes.
Now the famed East Front, arguably one of the longest in Europe, is completely shrouded in scaffolding and a three-phase Capital Works Programme is underway, carrying out vital repairs to protect important heritage assets.
With funding from the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund, WWPT now has 23 staff, over 100 volunteers and generates income from events, retail, catering, weddings, film and TV productions.
Said Julie: “We are putting right the wrongs of past years for the future of our local community, and the nation. We will ensure the house’s future is never threatened again.”