A man for all seasons

County Coun John Shedwick, the new chairman of Lancashire County Council
County Coun John Shedwick, the new chairman of Lancashire County Council
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Once every Preston Guild...

The expression has passed into widespread use, but for one Cleveleys-born politician it has particular significance.

John Shedwick, former manager of the Grand Theatre, and Guild Hall in the city, has been appointed chairman of Lancashire County Council.

He heads the administrative authority which oversees the county including Fylde and Wyre’s chunks of it – Blackpool being a stand-alone unitary authority.

And he’s been appointed just in time to help lead some of the biggest parties of all.

Preston Guild is held every 20 years. Its reach goes far beyond the city itself for many proud Prestonians living in exile.

This isn’t the first year the Guild has been celebrated in an age of austerity and it won’t be the last.

But with names of the calibre of Jose Carreras heading over to help get the party started, John is taking it all in his stride.

He’s already presented some of the biggest stars in the land at his beloved theatres.

“I don’t get tongue-tied, or overawed,” he admits. “I’ve been privileged to meet some world famous names.”

The Grand is his first love. He took it on just after it had been saved from demolition, the magnificent Matcham theatre rescued by the Friends of the Grand. John oversaw the reopening in 1980, and remains a member of the Grand Theatre Trust – although Lancashire (the county council) excludes unitary Blackpool from its administrative authority.

Today, John’s cherished Grand is riding out the recession on a mix of quality drama, contemporary dance, musicals, opera, ballet and – under general manager and chief executive Neil Thomson’s direction – a push for more community drama of the type brought to the prestige venue by Poulton Drama last week.

Blood Brothers, the play, not the musical, proved a great impetus to Neil’s campaign to encourage more local groups to share the theatre for a week of community drama each summer.

“Ideally we’re looking for three back-to-back productions for the week next year,” Neil adds. Poulton Drama leapt at the chance. Director Tony Stone says: “We have another show coming up, but are confident we have the mix right and the following for both.”

The Grand is also likely to host another first, Kirkham’s SilverDell bookshop having booked the theatre in October for best-selling children’s author Darren Shan’s visit. Elaine Silverwood of SilverDell said: “The idea is that as many children as possible can experience an author event and leave with a signed book.”

It marks the sort of diversification envisaged and encouraged by the manager who helped breathe new life into the Grand in 1980. John also promoted similar policies within the Guild Hall, during his time running the Charter Theatre and Grand Hall.

“It was a very different way of life to the Grand, because we got the big sports and other events there as well, but I loved them both.”

The County Hall chief’s passion for theatre permeates his politics. A theatrical, even comic, sense of timing hasn’t let him down either.

“There are so many parallels,” says the leader now in charge of the county authority through the continuing jubilee jaunts, the progress of the Olympic Torch across the county, the Open Golf, Preston Guild, even the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witches.

He’s pragmatic about public service cutbacks, and the challenges ahead, but adds: “If ever a county knew how to survive austerity, it’s Lancashire.

“You only have to look at its history to appreciate that. It’s the great survivor.”

A county councillor since 2001, father-of-two John represents the electoral division of Amounderness, not far from where he was born.

The position is similar to a mayoralty, and lasts for a year. Duties include welcoming official visitors, representing the county at significant events and chairing meetings of the full council.

He sidesteps questions about the economy and impact of cutbacks, or the appointment of a police commissioner, but has been a champion of Lancashire Combined Fire Authority.

He adds: “I have myriad concerns, highways and transportation issues and obviously social services as we do have a significant retired population, but they are too numerous to mention.”

He’s more than happy to comment on the Guild year -– in some respects it marks full circle. John says: “I was manager of Preston’s Guild Hall for 12 years and honoured to be first manager during a Guild Year in 1992 as the building wasn’t finished in time for 1972. It is a huge privilege to be chairman of the county council during the 2012 Guild Year.

“It is also a huge privilege to represent Amounderness, which is includes parts of Thornton, Carleton and Poulton, particularly as Amounderness was the historic name for most of the Fylde area.”