“Failing…everything I’ve done, I’ve done by failing” Interview with Mayor of Pendle
by BY KAREN SHAW
Born and bred in Colne, Lancashire, bullied as a child and ridiculed over his cleft lip and palate, Neil Butterworth had a miserable upbringing. At the age of 17 he joined the army to escape his turbulent home life. Little did he know that after signing up, the cruel taunts and gruelling orders were to continue, intended to break the young squaddie, it made him more determined than ever. “The bullying had the opposite effect to the one they wanted,” he recalls, “it made me more determined to succeed,” and succeed he certainly did…
Known as the First Citizen of Pendle, the Mayor of Pendle Neil Butterworth has his own private secretary and gets chauffeured around in a big, posh car while wearing a big, posh gold chain – a world away from his day job, a job he describes in his own words as “driving his wagon covered in muck!
“People see me suited and booted, if I’m wearing a chain, I’m representing Pendle so I have to be smart, and I am, but then when I go to my day job, I’m covered in muck. I don’t wash my clothes; I throw them away – I can’t put my Tarmac smothered clothes in the wash as it would ruin the washing machine so I’m constantly in charity shops buying cheap clothes to wear to work.”
“I was never a political person, I just wanted to be in a position to help people.”
It was over 16 years ago that Neil was voted in as a Conservative councillor for the Horsfield area of Colne, Lancashire. Now the Conservative councillor for Boulsworth and Foulridge he remembers his first ever election…
“In the evening I visited all the local pubs offering lifts to the voting station. I drove people in my car, waited and drove them back. In total I took 14 people from the various pubs. I took Labour and Lib Dems to vote because everyone should vote and why should I say, ‘I’m not taking you’? I won by 14 votes!” he laughs. “I was never a political person, I just wanted to be in a position to help people. I need to know the ‘ins and outs’, but my focus is always on the people first.”
“It has been challenging, people think because you’re the mayor that you have more power, which isn’t the case. I get up to 40 emails a day from people wanting help – ‘Can you sort my doctor out?’ ‘Will you move my bins?’ ‘Can you get me a house?’
Neil goes on to tell me about the time he got a phone call at quarter to six on a Sunday morning. “When I answered I realised it was an elderly lady,” says Neil. “‘Hello is that the Mayor?’ ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘Is it time to go to church yet?’ she asked. I looked at the phone, it was dark and I was in bed. I said, ‘I’ve had a word with God, he says we’re okay to lay in until 9.30am, but I’m going back to sleep!’ ‘Oh, thank you mayor, I thought I’d missed it!’”
Having a sense of humour is most certainly a requirement for the role of mayor, but so is raising much needed funds for local charities, so, when Neil’s not busy answering people’s concerns he’s also on a mission to raise vital funds for his three chosen charities.
One of the charities selected to benefit from fundraising are Blood Bikes – a rapid response team of volunteers who provide a medical transport service for the NHS. “They work on shifts, buy their own bikes, petrol, uniform and insurance,” says Neil. “Every time I see one of them, I run over and put 20 pound in their pocket towards their petrol.
“My mayoress, Victoria Fletcher, chose to support Pendle Domestic Violence Initiative because of the recent Covid situation the increase in domestic violence has rocketed. Another cause very close to Neil’s heart is to raise enough funds to provide two children’s defibrillators. “They’re expensive but so vitally important and we’ll be donating them to local children’s organisations. Hopefully, they’ll never need to use them.
“I’m still a town councillor, a borough councillor, Pendle Armed Forces Champion,” he pauses briefly for air, “and visit seven care homes and 27 people outside of care homes, as well as helping to organise Colne’s annual gala,” he grins.
In 1977, at the tender age of 17 Neil joined the army, it was on his fourth attempt he was accepted after being turned down three times previously. Born with a cleft lip and palate, as a child he undertook numerous operations, but still had a severe speech impediment in his teens which, according to the army, made him ‘unsuitable’. At each interview he would struggle with his speech and be turned away.
They made it clear I wasn’t wanted because of the way I was
However, Neil’s signature steely determination came through when he was eventually accepted. “Luckily for me they didn’t have computers in them days, so I was able to keep on applying!” he chuckles. “My dad died when I was ten, and growing up I had a hard life – I was bullied and didn’t fight back. I ran away from home and became homeless. In an attempt to escape his turbulent childhood Neil decided he’d join the army…
His late father, George had served with the Gurkhas in Malaysia. “Dad was a corporal and I was determined to follow his lead and go one step better – which I did when I was made sergeant.”