Stephen Butt, Parish Clerk to Kibworth Beauchamp, Tugby and Billesdon Parish Councils, historian, author and very much more will soon be leaving Kibworth after 35 years. He has worked tirelessly to facilitate the work of local government and to discover and explain so much about the history of this area. In an interview with the Chronicle, before we lose him to North Yorkshire, Stephen talked about his life and experiences, and his hopes and concerns for our community.
Q. What, if any, aspects of your early life steered you towards your study choices, career and interests?
A. I was born in Weston-super -Mare and went to the local grammar school. My interest in photography was stimulated by a holiday job working as a bicycle courier for a local photographer who would snap people strolling along the beach. I took the film for processing by bicycle and returned the prints.
After A levels I studied Psychology at St John’s College, Durham University, where I met my wife Linda, who was studying languages. There I became involved in a BBC Radio Durham-hosted student programme where I learnt the basic skills of editing, interviewing and using the technical equipment and met famous broadcasters such as Kate Adie and Gavin Hewitt. After graduating, I applied successfully for a job as Studio Manager at the BBC in London. I had to master the equipment such as control desks and tape recorders, and generally support producers. While at Bush House, home of the World Service, I did 8 hour shifts working on many of the 40 or so foreign language programmes.
Q. How did you come to move to Leicestershire?
A. After about 2 years Linda and I decided the hectic London life was not for us. Fortunately an opening arose with BBC Radio Leicester for the job of Senior Broadcast Journalist. Leicester was midway between my family and Linda’s so I applied and got the job. I was responsible for several small teams, supporting presenters and planning future programmes. I did some presenting myself, including the gardening programme ‘Down to Earth’. Our son and daughter were born in Broughton Astley and we moved to Kibworth in 1984.
Q. You are known as a local historian and author of many books. How did this come about?
A. Between A-levels and university, I spent four months working for a local advertising magazine.. One scoop was an interview with a Mr Badman, then in his 90s, who, as a lad, had charged batteries for Marconi and taken them out by bike to Marconi’s receiving station. The editor, a former Daily Mail sub-editor, taught me to write as a journalist and initiated the change from sixth former to uni undergraduate.
Later, when in Leicester, I studied for an MA degree in English Local History at Nottingham University. I was working full time, bringing up a family and travelling to lectures in Nottingham; however, studying under Dr David Marcombe, a really stimulating historian, made the effort worthwhile.
In 2004, I was approached by the publisher Tempus to compile a history of central Leicester in old photos. This may have resulted from the publisher having seen my local history website, coincidentally also called Tempus. Later I wrote a series of books comparing past and present photographs of Leicestershire for another publisher, Amberley, and now have 26 books in print.
Q. Did you get involved with Michael Wood’s TV series based in Kibworth?
A. Yes, I took a year’s paid sabbatical from the BBC and joined the team working on the 2009 six-part series ‘The Story of England’ made by Michael’s company Maya Vision about the Kibworths and Smeeton. It was very exciting and included persuading people to dig up a square metre of their garden. I continued to work with Michael on a further series ‘The Great British Story’. I returned to the BBC for a while until I retired in 2011.
Q. What made you interested in becoming Clerk to the Parish Council?
A. While working with Michael Wood, I’d met many Parish Clerks and Councillors, which prompted me to apply for the post of Parish Clerk to Kibworth Beauchamp Parish Council. I decided to study for a Certificate in Local Government Administration. A qualified clerk enables a Parish Council to take advantage of the powers given by the 2011 Localism Act. Later I became Clerk to Tugby & Keythorpe and Billesdon Parish Councils as well.
Q. What has changed for the better during your 10 years as Parish Clerk?
A. Kibworth Beauchamp Parish Council has bought the Warwick Road recreation ground to preserve it from development; they have also set up the allotments on West Langton Road and have improved the equipment and safety on all play areas. A Neighbourhood Plan has been created and I have also set up an online information and question and answer service.
Q. Is there anything you wish could have changed but has not?
A. Big challenges remain such as the lack of amenities for young people. Another frustration is the rejection by the County Council of many small scale proposals that the Parish Council had put forward for better traffic management in the village.
Q. What other interests have you enjoyed in your time here? It is hard to imagine you have much in the way of spare time.
A. I was General Secretary of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society for 10 years. I am also a founder Trustee of Kibworth Community Library which was established in 2016 after separation from the County Council.
My wife and I have a patch of land near Foxton and we enjoy cultivating fruit, vegetables and vines. This is hard work but it is a great way of getting away from it all. So also are our holidays on Shetland, which really is a ‘different world’ being very peaceful and quiet with beautiful scenery.
Q. What are your hopes for your forthcoming move to Yorkshire?
A. It will be an incredible wrench to leave Kibworth where Linda and I have made lots of wonderful friends and enjoyed our time immensely. However, we are moving to a beautiful part of Yorkshire, which will make family meet ups much easier. I would like to continue my online advisory role to councils on future planning issues and as there are 750 Parish Councils in Yorkshire it sounds like I could continue to be busy!
Stephen has promised to keep in touch with Kibworth but he will undoubtedly be sorely missed.
Interview by Carol Townend and