Unpaid volunteer who saved Yorkshire stately home Wentworth Woodhouse for the nation is given a damehood

A woman who became a carer for her family at the age of just 10 has been honoured by the Queen for her contribution to preserving Yorkshire's heritage.

Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse

Self-made Rotherham businesswoman Julie Kenny, 61, has been given a damehood in the Queen's Birthday Honours in recognition of her five-year campaign to save stately home Wentworth Woodhouse from falling into decay.

Wentworth Woodhouse: Yorkshire's sleeping giant awakens as restoration beginsShe chairs the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust - a role for which she is not paid - and has secured the future of the Grade I-listed historic seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam, near Rotherham.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The house has now been awarded government preservation grants and will undergo major restoration before fully opening to the public for the first time.

Julie Kenny has now been made a dame

Twelve incredible photos taken inside 'secret' stately home Wentworth Woodhouse“I am amazed and humbled to receive this honour. I was inspired by one of the greatest houses in the UK and I did not achieve this alone; there were many people that helped me along the way and this award recognises our joint achievements.

“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. And I passionately believed the house could become a beacon, its beauty drawing people from all of the world. I knew how proud that would make the people of Rotherham feel about their heritage again, and that jobs and skills could be created for young people.

Revival of Wentworth Woodhouse's neglected gardens begins“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 to persevere and never to give up, even when the going got tough - and then extra tough."

Julie, who raised three children as a single mother, founded a security system manufacturing company in Rotherham and was awarded a CBE in 2002 for her services to industry.

The rear of the mansion

The WWPT purchased the mansion, stables, camelia house and 83 acres of the grounds for £7million in 2017.

The house, which had been in private ownership for decades since the Fitzwilliam family left after World War Two, was in a state of decay. Some buildings were riddled with dangerous asbestos and there were collapsed drains, endemic dry rot, leaking roofs and rotting timbers.

At first, Trust volunteers had just one working phone line and a single vacuum cleaner.

The East Front - a facade longer than Buckingham Palace's - is currently undergoing restoration as part of the three-phase programme.

Visitors tour the Whistlejacket Room

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. Parts of the house are open to the public for guided tours.

“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.”

Wentworth Woodhouse was leased out to several tenants, including a teacher training college, in the post-war years before entering private ownership. At one point, open-cast coal mining took place in the parkland, just metres from the house itself. The grounds have since been re-landscaped.

Nearby Wentworth Castle, built by a disinherited member of the same family in Stainborough, is also enjoying a revival - this month its gardens re-opened to the public after a two-year restoration project.Who is Julie Kenny?

Julie Kenny had an impoverished childhood in Hillsborough and Stannington in Sheffield. At the age of 10 she was a carer for her baby brother and daily life revolved around cooking, cleaning, homework and school. She left home at 18 with just £45 to her name to take a secretarial job in Cornwall.

She became a lawyer, then set up Rotherham security system manufacturer Pyronix with her husband in 1986.

Despite becoming a single mother of three after the break-up of her marriage, she grew Pyronix into an award-winning organisation supplying 65 countries and was awarded her CBE in 2002 for her services to industry in Yorkshire and Humberside. When she sold the company in 2016 its turnover was £25 million.

“I remember the first time I saw the house and feeling so in awe of this majestic building. I could not believe we had something so beautiful here in Rotherham, a property rivalling the greatest houses in the UK - a real jewel.

"I learned of the neglect and trauma the house had gone through, its current poor state of repair and that there would be enormous costs to preserve and restore it. But I saw that it could play a major role as an economic regenerator for the region.

"It was probably the hardest challenge I have ever faced. Many people said to me was impossible. Many times, when talking to individuals about the task, I saw in their eyes that they thought it could not be achieved. My view is that nothing is impossible with time and energy and belief."