Star Trek star Patrick Stewart helps launch Welcome to Yorkshire's personal membership scheme

British actor Sir Patrick Stewart (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)British actor Sir Patrick Stewart (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
British actor Sir Patrick Stewart (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
Tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire has launched a new personal membership model as it seeks to reduce its reliance on public sector funding – with some of the county’s most famous names including Sir Patrick Stewart, Captain Sir Tom Moore and Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen among those granted honorary membership.

Chief executive James Mason told a meeting of the agency’s board on Friday afternoon that it was hoped the £20 personal membership model, which includes the planting of a tree in the county for every individual that signs up and is being launched to coincide with Yorkshire Day, would appeal to people across the world who have a connection with the region and generate commercial revenue.

Sir Patrick, Sir Tom and Amanda Owen will all have trees planted for them as honorary personal members to help launch the scheme.

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Sir Patrick said: “I was born in Yorkshire 80 years ago and for the first 17 years of my life Yorkshire gave me the inspiration, access to hard work and people to meet that led me to choosing the career of an actor. For 20 years I lived in a house on a hilltop in Wharfedale and the joy, the tranquillity, the beauty of this place has never left me even though I have left the house. I am so proud to be having a tree named after me on behalf of Welcome to Yorkshire.”

Mr Mason said around 1,000 people had already registered an interest in holding such a membership. “It is not just for the five million people in the county but there are 20 to 30 million people with connections to Yorkshire around the world,” he said. “It is a nice thing to do but there is some commercial thought behind it. We want data and to have that conversation with people around the world so they can tell us why they love Yorkshire.”

Mr Mason, who was appointed as chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire in January as the organisation struggled to recover from the fallout to the resignation of previous boss Sir Gary Verity on health grounds amidst allegations about his expenses spending and treatment of staff, has repeatedly said he intends to make the agency less reliant on public sector funding, which currently makes up around half of the company’s income.

But in recent weeks it has been seeking a £1.4m bailout from the region’s councils and warning that without the money it would face closure. Councils in North and South Yorkshire have agreed to pay almost £600,000 but decisions are still yet to be made by local authorities in East and West Yorkshire.

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The agency’s chairman Peter Box, who is the former leader of Wakefield Council, told the board meeting: “My huge thanks go to out local authority colleagues who have agreed to support Welcome to Yorkshire.

“Coming from a local Government background, I do recognise the particular problems that local authorities are going through at the moment so their help is greatly appreciated.”

Mr Box said the organisation would also be taking a different approach to promoting tourism in Yorkshire than it has done in the past.

“We want to make sure the focus is on Yorkshire and not on Welcome to Yorkshire.

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“Perhaps in the past it was more about the organisation than the county we all live in. So for me, that is a huge cultural shift in the organisation.

“Lots of people I have spoken to certainly support that different way of doing things.”

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