On behalf of myself and Wensleydale Creamery, it is with great sadness that we learned of John Blackie’s passing this weekend. I first met John in 1992 around the time of the closure of Wensleydale Creamery and John became a local leader in the ‘Save the Creamery’ campaign. He lobbied media, MP’s, Local Government and together with colleagues, supporters and the Community, raised the profile of a small business closure in a ‘deeply rural environment’, to national status. The pressure and momentum gained through this campaign did indeed contribute significantly to the then owners, Dairy Crest agreeing to a sale to the Management Team.
Since this time, John maintained full contact with the Creamery and became a champion of our progress and development. Throughout the years following our Creamery buyout, John fought for the Creamery and on many occasions challenged us improve our performance, always in the spirit of progress and ultimately for the wellbeing of Hawes and the Upper Dales. As we know, John loved to ‘back a cause’; in our case, it was to resurrect a failing business and to maintain employment and economic survival in Hawes. John always recognised the value and the contribution local businesses make to the stability of the local community and the opportunities and jobs for local people.
John was dogmatic in his opinions and attitudes towards local educational provision. I worked with John as a School Governor at The Wensleydale School and Sixth Form – again an environment in which he would both challenge and support. However, John always linked the need for great education and the opportunities in our area for young people to build meaningful careers. Again, this linked to housing provision for young people and John was a champion of local affordable housing. Without doubt, John had a truly rounded perception of our community and what it needs to be both sustainable and successful. He was always prepared to stand up for what he believed in and what he perceived to be in the best possible interests of the community he served.
John was the person responsible for ensuring our deeply rural community has a transport provision in the form of The Little White Bus – and remarkably, I often saw John at the wheel of a bus – this is leadership! A planner, facilitator and leader of other local services via The Community Office in Hawes, where he ensured the continuation of a Post Office in the face of Bank closures. The provision of Cash Machines in Hawes – again in response to others withdrawing their services. Latterly, we were encouraged to show around the executives of the Newcastle Building Society, who plan to open an office in the Community Office. John was most instrumental in developing this relationship and simply made it happen.
I suspect one of John’s proudest achievements for our community will be the huge success of the Community Garage – a truly inspired move whereby the community’s not for profit organisation purchased the local garage, to ensure our town has a viable fuel outlet, taking advantage of rural support payments for fuel and to drive this business forward providing fuel for ‘our community’ at the best possible price and in fact, being nationally competitive. This facility has made a huge impact and as a business person, I give John full credit and respect for this achievement alone.
John loved to promote our area as a ‘self-sufficient community’, and whilst John loved to deal with the media in all its forms, regionally, nationally and internationally, he genuinely had a point to make – we are self-sufficient, sustainable and successful! We owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Blackie. He fought tirelessly for what he believed in – people, social justice, fairness, opportunity for all, our environment, education, housing, rural economic prosperity and wellbeing – all wrapped up in the objective of ‘prosperity for Hawes, Wensleydale and the Upper Dales’. Not a bad achievement for a chap from Hemel Hemptstead. John will be missed by me, the creamery and the community he represented.
On behalf of us all at Wensleydale Dairy Products, we offer condolences to Jill and all his family and for sure, John will be remembered.