Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire Jo Ropner: 'The role can make a difference'

Jo Ropner gives a wry smile when asked how it feels to be holding the title of the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire.

Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire Jo Ropner. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe 14th May 2020.

"Well, it is something of a departure, isn’t it?” she says.

“But the fact that I am the first woman to be given the role is something that I will always cherish.”

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Sitting on a wooden bench at a picnic table on her 300-acre estate in the Vale of York in the summer sunshine, it is a chance for Mrs Ropner to reflect on her appointment as the Queen’s representative for England’s largest county.

Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire Jo Ropner. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe 14th May 2020.

The role became vacant in the most tragic of circumstances, as her predecessor, entrepreneur Barry Dodd, was killed when a helicopter he was piloting crashed in a field in Aldborough, near Boroughbridge, in May 2018.

Mrs Ropner, then a Deputy Lieutenant for North Yorkshire, had been asked to help with the recruitment process to find Mr Dodd’s successor, giving her opinion as to who would be the ideal candidate.

“I had sat down and spelt out what qualities I thought were important when at the end of the hour-long chat I was asked if I would ever consider the position myself,” she says.

“I was a little shocked to say the least, but when I went away and thought about it, I felt it was an opportunity that I couldn’t refuse.”

When it was announced in November 2018 that Mrs Ropner had been appointed, she made a pledge to ensure that her tenure as the Lord Lieutenant would champion rural communities.

Her love of country life is clear to see. During the lockdown, she and her husband, Robert, have been busy re-organising their family-run business, the Camp Hill Estate, doubling the size of the glamping business after corporate and education bookings fell away in the wake of coronavirus.

The estate reopened to visitors on July 4 with the easing of lockdown restrictions, and has given the couple a huge challenge to ensure it adhered to the stringent government guidelines before they welcomed back visitors.

Alongside this, Mrs Ropner has begun a charm offensive to raise the profile of the Lieutenancy in North Yorkshire.

It is a mammoth task in itself, as her role covers a vast geographical area that extends beyond the boundaries of England’s largest county and takes in Teesside as well, and a population of more than a million people.

In May, she announced four new recruits to boost the ranks of her Deputy Lieutenants to 44, joining the likes of broadcaster Harry Gration and the Dean of Ripon, John Dobson. Their role is to act as the ears and eyes of the Lord Lieutenant, pinpointing those who have achieved success in the community.

Mrs Ropner admits herself that the title of Lord Lieutenant sounds reminiscent of a bygone era, but feels it still holds huge relevance.

Last year saw 16 engagements involving the Royal Family in North Yorkshire, and Mrs Ropner was at the side of the Princess Royal for her first public outing since the lockdown last month during a visit to the Dovecote Park meat suppliers near Pontefract.

Mrs Ropner is adamant she wants to change perceptions and reach out to as many people as possible.

“Whilst I may be the Queen’s representative, it is not just about ceremony,” she said.

“I do believe this is a role that can make a real difference, bringing communities together and giving them the recognition they deserve.

“This is even more important in a county like North Yorkshire, where we have such a vast area with so many varied walks of life.

“I want the lieutenancy to become as relevant as possible, and not just some title that people think has no real bearing on their lives.”

Born in Edinburgh before growing up at her family’s home in Perthshire, she only ventured south of the border when she went to study for her A-levels as a boarder at Oakham School, in Rutland.

She went on to study for a degree in agriculture and food marketing at the University of Newcastle, and while there met her future husband, the son of a British bobsleigh champion, Bruce Ropner.

After their marriage in 1986, the couple came to live on the Camp Hill Estate, taking over its management seven years later. It quickly became apparent that they needed to modernise and diversify the family farm, leading to event management, weddings and eventually a glamping site.

There can be no doubt that Mrs Ropner, herself a mother of three grown-up children, sees the importance of the younger generation.

She became patron of the Cadet Forces Trust for The North of England last year and is also honorary county president of the Scouts and the chair of the board of trustees for the Yorkshire Children’s Hospital Fund. She is both a patron of the YMCA and the Rainbow Children’s Trust Charity, a position she has held for 25 years.

“I know there are an awful lot of organisations that I am involved in,” Mrs Ropner says.

“But this has always been the way I have approached life – you want to get involved and make a difference.

“That is the reason I took on the role of Lord Lieutenant, and I hope after my time has passed, whoever takes it on seizes the chance to make that difference too.”