Rotherham businesswoman Julie Kenny receives damehood in Queen’s Birthday Honours

INSPIRATIONAL Rotherham businesswoman Julie Kenny has been given a damehood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to heritage.
Dame Julie KennyDame Julie Kenny
Dame Julie Kenny

Julie (61) has been recognised for spearheading the restoration of Wentworth Woodhouse, which she described as the biggest challenge of her career so far.

She said she was “amazed” and “humbled” to receive the damehood — the second-highest honour in the land.

Her campaign to secure the future of Rotherham's grade I-listed Georgian stately home began five years ago.

The chairwoman of Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) added: “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.”

The trust purchased the mansion, its stables, riding school, camelia house and 83 acres in March 2017 for £7 million following a campaign backed by SAVE British Heritage. 

When WWPT 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, and leaking roofs.

Now the famed east front — 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.

Julie added: “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.”

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 a range of events.

Julie was nominated for the honour by Deborah Lamb, former deputy chief executive at Historic England. 

She said: “Saving one of the most impressive historic buildings in England would not have been possible without Julie’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 grew up in an impoverished childhood in Hillsborough and Stannington in Sheffield. 

At the age of ten 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.  

When she sold the company in 2016 its turnover was £25 million.

She also served as a government-appointed commissioner to Rotherham Borough Council and the first female chair of the British Security Industry Association.

A member of the Sheffield City Region LEP, she has served on numerous government bodies and as Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of South Yorkshire. 

She is a former Vitalise Businesswoman of the Year and PwC Private Businesswoman of the Year.

In 2002 she was awarded her CBE for services to industry in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Two other Rotherham women have been recognised in the honour’s list, receiving MBEs are Christine Lunn, of North Anston, for services to fostering in the borough, and Susan Savage for services to the community in Rotherham.

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