York’s new Lord Mayor, Julie Gunnell, is being sworn in today. Ahead of her inauguration, she spoke to STEPHEN LEWIS.

WHEN Julie Gunnell attended her first council meeting, she was so nervous she ended up dropping all her agenda papers.

It was 2007. The mother-of-two, a charity worker, had just been elected to the council, and had been thrown in at the deep end as Labour’s shadow Cabinet member for youth and social inclusion.

“I had to get up at the first council meeting I had ever been to and propose a motion. I was so nervous, I dropped everything,” she admits.

She expected to be almost equally nervous during her swearing-in as the new Lord Mayor of York today. But she now has years of experience as a councillor behind her – and no shortage of wise older heads to call upon.

Traditionally, the Lord Mayor’s spouse becomes mayoral consort, but Coun Gunnell’s husband, Wayne, works full-time in the construction industry so her consort will be her father – former Lord Mayor Ken King. Her Sheriff will be former Lord Mayor Brian Watson while her daughter, Sam, a York solicitor, will be under-Sheriff.

Thanks to her father, the 48-year-old already knows her way around the official residence of York’s Lord Mayor.

Coun King was Sheriff in 1984/5, before becoming Lord Mayor 11 years later. “So I’ve got some fond memories of this place,” Coun Gunnell says.

York born and bred, Coun Gunnell and her three sisters grew up in Melbourne Street, off Fishergate. She went to Fishergate School, and then Knavesmire Secondary.

She’s spent most of her working life in the voluntary sector: first with the Old Dairy Studios, a media and arts charity working with people with learning disabilities; and then in the finance department of York Centre for Voluntary Services (CVS).

She remained with the CVS until she became Labour’s Cabinet member for corporate services.

Over the last couple of years she has, among other things, overseen the Labour-controlled council’s “financial inclusion” strategy, which aimed to ensure York’s poorest and most vulnerable people had access to financial and debt advice. She was also the politician in charge of the council’s move to its new West Offices HQ.

All of which meant lots of stress, and long hours. So she was ready for a change: and becoming York’s 624th (or so) Lord Mayor seemed perfect.

She’s only the 11th woman to have held the role (although the seventh since 2000).

“It’s such a historical role, and this is such a wonderful city to be representing.”

The Lord Mayor of York is second only to the Lord Mayor of London in terms of precedence. As Mayor, Coun Gunnell will chair meetings of the full council and, together with the Sheriff, represent the city on ceremonial occasions, welcome international visitors and attend events organised by local people and community groups.

It promises to be an exciting year, she says. This is the anniversary year of the Queen’s coronation, for a start. York will also be hosting the European Ladies’ Amateur Team Golf Championship at Fulford Golf Club in July. And then there is next year’s Tour de France to prepare for.

She’ll be looking to play a prominent role in all of those – although she won’t be drawn on whether she will spearhead a campaign for Richard III’s body to be brought back to York.

Choosing which causes to support was tough, but Coun Gunnell has opted for two close to her heart. One is the York-based charity Jack Raine Foundation.

“They work with young people who have dropped out of the system, trying to re-engage them.”

Her other is IDAS, the Independent Domestic Abuse Services – previously York Women’s Aid.

They are, she says, “just amazing people” doing outstanding work with victims of domestic abuse.

“People often don’t realise what is going on,” she says. “But domestic abuse is happening in York. I want to raise awareness about that – and also help them raise money.”

Because of her background in charity work, being able to get involved with two such great local charities will be special, she says.

“Someone said it was as though Julie Gunnell was coming home!”