‘Agitators’ plan to modernise Yorkshire literary society

A film-maker and a retired deputy headteacher are planning to help “modernise” a Yorkshire literary society by taking on unpaid leadership roles - just six months after they were branded “agitators”.

The Bronte Parsonage, Haworth

John Thirlwell, a film producer/director, and Janice Lee, a former deputy head, are seeking election to the ruling council of the Brontë Society.

The pair, who both live in Yorkshire, hit the headlines last year when they and 50 disgruntled members forced an extraordinary general meeting of the Society after claiming it had “lost its way”

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In September they called on the ruling council to step aside “to bring greater levels of professionalism and experience to the Society.”

Bonnie Greer, President of the Bronte Society, in the garden of the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth.

They said the Society needed fresh, modernising leadership to replace those who were “micro-managing” the Brontë Parsonage Museum, owned by the Society.

In October they were criticised by outgoing chairman Christine Went as “agitators” who were “behaving irresponsibly” in seeking power for themselves.

Six months later Mr Thirlwell and Mrs Lee are seeking election to the ruling council.

It is understood that at least five of the 12 council members are due to stand down at the annual meeting in June.

And it now emerged that the Brontë Society was so worried about a lack of Council nominees that it took legal advice on relaxing the rules to allow people to stand after being members for less than two years.

A message to members on April 2 said “exceptional circumstances” had arisen as “an insufficient number of nominations have been received and a skills gap has been identified.”

The message added: “If this situation is left unaddressed and further nominations are not received, this would mean that the minimum number of trustees would not be reached which would lead to a breach of the charity’s articles which must be avoided if at all possible.”

Mr Thirlwell said that, if elected, he wanted to “support innovation” in telling the Brontë story.

“We have a fantastic story but maybe we are missing out some of the newer ways of telling it.”

Also standing is Peter Mayo-Smith, priest in charge at Haworth Parish Church, who has a background in business and believes Haworth is failing to make the most of its tourism potential.

“The more tourists we have, the greater the income it generates for the area. An awful lot of my parishioners get their income through tourism.”

He said Parsonage needed to pack a “harder punch”.

Opening up nominations to newer members would “throw up a lot more talent,” he believes.

A spokeswoman for the Brontë Society said a sufficient number of members had put their names forward by Saturday April 11, the deadline for nominations.

“Relaxing the two year membership rule allows the Society to ensure Council has the best possible skill set,” she added.

“It has been done before, even as recently as 2012 and this was the reason for the extension in this instance.”

The spokeswoman said membership numbers had risen since the beginning of the year “and we expect this trend to continue as we move towards the bicentenaries next year.”

Bonnie Greer, President of the Brontë Society: “It’s great that new members are coming forward to join Council and we hope that any new members on the Brontë Society Council will continue the work and dedication of the present one.”

She said the Council “saw the need to refresh its skill base.”

Ms Greer added: “I’m working to help diversify membership and bring on younger members - local, regional, national and international - who are all crucial to the future of the Brontë Society.”