THE MAN who helped secure a new lease of life for Ilkley Manor House is ‘taking a step back’.

Sir Rodney Brooke began his involvement with the historic building three years ago when he learnt that Bradford Council were closing it as a museum and art gallery.

He went on to become Chair of the Ilkley Manor House Trust (IMHT), a group formed to safeguard the property as a community asset for generations to come.

The Trust successfully negotiated with Bradford Council to take on the building and in April this year it was reopened by its patron, Sir Alan Titchmarsh.

Now, Sir Rodney has announced that he is stepping down as Chair as the project begins its next stage.

He said: “As we start on the next phase of the Manor House’s life, it is time for me to step down as Chair and make way for someone who can organise the daily running of the Manor House and move it forward.

“We are lucky to have a wonderful replacement in Sarah Thomas, who is a genius at organisation.

“I shall take on the hands-off role of President and will maintain my commitment to the future of the Manor House.

“It is a marvellous resource for the whole community.

“This iconic building is unique in this area: a Grade One listed building on top of a scheduled ancient monument, the Roman Fort.

“It is a fascinating building. In the last full year before it closed, 17,000 people went round the Manor House.

“Young people from all over the Bradford District learnt about the history of England – the Rock Art on the Moor; the Saxon crosses in All Saints’ Church next door; the medieval Manor House; the Victorian Spa and the ‘Ilkley chair’.

“Just as importantly, local societies had meetings, lectures, concerts and exhibitions there.

“Its closure was a big blow to many people in the town.”

Looking back at what has been achieved so far, and ahead to what the future might bring, he added: “With some determined people – Sarah Thomas, Ruth Pitt, John Cockshott, Vincent Dobson, Helen Kidman and others – we convinced Bradford Council not to sell the Manor House but to transfer it to a charitable trust which could preserve it as a historical monument and heritage community centre, to be used by local people, including children.

“A generous donation from a local family charity has financed our work, together with grants from the Architectural Heritage Foundation, the Town Council and others.

“Thanks to our brilliant volunteers, it is now open every weekend.

“A series of exhibitions, concerts, lectures and events have also enabled us to open it during the week and thousands of people have already enjoyed its unique atmosphere and history.

“We hope it will be used by local people for wedding breakfasts and family events and by local societies.

“The cottages in the Manor House Yard will be occupied by people with a social and artistic purpose. A main tenant is Ilkley Arts, who have already moved in.

“We want the Manor House Yard to be an exciting space animated by artistic activities, music and dance.”

The Trust has also now applied to the the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to improve the property’s heating and to employ a Heritage Officer.