Aroundtown Meets: Eve Rose Keenan, Mayor of Rotherham

Eve Rose Keenan, Mayor of Rotherham

Hear ye, hear ye. As the peal of Rotherham Minster’s twelve bells rings out across the town, a new mayor is sworn in at the Town Hall ready to celebrate the unity of the town she now calls home.

After just two years as a councillor and an exciting year as deputy to Cllr Lyndsay Pitchley, Eve Rose Keenan has stepped into the mayoral robe and chain of office ready to start a year of civic, ceremonial, community and church duties.

Along with being the third consecutive female mayor for Rotherham, following in the footsteps of Lyndsay and her predecessor Maggi Clark, Eve is also shattering those stained glass ceilings as the first female ordained mayor in the country, having been a Reverend since 2001.

While she consecrates her pledge for the town in the next year, Eve’s baptism as mayor back in May also means she’ll now be juggling her duties with working as a hospital chaplain in Hull at the Humber Mental Health Teaching NHS Trust where she has worked for over 13 years.

You may be thinking how politics and religion combine for Eve, but for her it is all about the fellowship her work in both communities brings, offering her a chance to be a voice of reason and a voice of the people.

Jumping into youth politics

Born in Kent in 1963, Eve spent her early years in Rainham before the family travelled over the River Medway to Strood when she was ten where she first became a Christian – although she’s not entirely sure why.

“My family has never been religious, but my grandparents gave me a bible and one day I just decided I wanted to go to church, so I did,” she says.

By age 14, her political views also opposed her stepfather’s, joining the Labour Party Youth Socialists which stemmed off a life-long activist involvement.

“My dad has always been a diehard Labour supporter who instilled a passion for justice in me from a young age. I’ve always been very political but joining the LPYS didn’t go down very well with my mother and step-father who were Conservatives.”

Her fight for workers’ rights started in her very first job on a broccoli farm in the school holidays where she launched a branch of Transport and General Workers Union, or T&G, which had over two million members in 1977. With dangerous machinery around the crops, Eve instigated a workplace crèche to help working parents.

“I ended up getting the sack as they thought I was too active – I’ve never liked broccoli since.”

Although she failed her 11-plus exams, Eve’s time at Chapter Secondary School saw her propel through education to become the first student from her school – known locally as the Pram Pushers for its high teenage pregnancy rates – to go onto university.

Eve chose to move up north to Leeds University to study History and Theology. On her very first day, she stood for chair of the Labour students which she didn’t win but was consequently asked to be vice-chair.

While she fell in love with Yorkshire, Eve admits her devotion to trade union activism and long days spent on the Orgreave picket line in the midst of the Miners’ Strike or at Eddy Shah’s printworks in Warrington meant that her grades suffered slightly; she graduated with a third class degree by the skin of her teeth.

However, the eye opening insight into ‘on the streets’ politics she gained was fundamental in paving the way to her eventually becoming Mayor of Rotherham.

From picket lines to pews

After university, while starting a young family, Eve worked at a homeless shelter in Leeds run by St Anne’s Community Services. She also worked for the Council among young women who had been forced into prostitution or sexual exploitation; Eve is also a survivor of child sexual exploitation.

Working alongside other CSE survivors, she knew she wanted to become a minister to offer solace and refuge to the vulnerable in times of need. Starting as a curate on the Seacroft Estate in Leeds, Eve was officially ordained in 2001 and enjoyed three fantastic years on the large council estate.

“It was one of the happiest times of my life and the perfect setting for me. I lived in a council house and was literally at the heart of the community – my door was always open. After a while, I knew being a parish priest wasn’t for me as I was never any good at the civic duties but I think God has had the last laugh now that I’m mayor.”

After Seacroft, Eve moved to Hull in 2003 to join the mental health unit where her congregation changed dramatically. Unlike in the parish, the joyous times of reading the sermon to those celebrating christenings and marriages were swapped with offering spiritual relief to the most needy at the lowest points in their lives.

Whilst practicing her faith, Eve was also a trade union representative and so needed the bishop’s permission to combine the two. Luckily for her, his wife was a UNISON member and it is from here that Eve became heavily involved with the champion for public services.

Marriage and move to Rotherham

While at a meeting at Wortley Hall six years ago, dubbed the workers’ stately home for its ownership by the trade unions, Eve met her current husband Patrick Keenan. She was there with UNISON and Pat, a steelworker, was there with Community.

Born and bred in Kimberworth Park, Rotherham, Pat started at Templeborough Rolling Mills at 16 under British Steel before it became Corus, working as a crane driver. It was love at first sight for him and Eve, with Pat offering to leave his hometown on the highway to Hull.

“I loved Rotherham just as much as he loved me so I decided to move here to be with him,” Eve says.

The pair married three years ago at their meeting place, with Wortley Hall becoming the Keenans’ second home along with their patterdale terrier, Rupert, who loves to stay in the onsite cottages.

Becoming a councillor

At their home in Masborough, Eve decided to dedicate her little spare time travelling between Yorkshire and the Humber to running for councillor. While at a church committee meeting at St Paul’s in 2015, she heard about the Casey Report, uncovering the significant scale at which children in Rotherham had been victims of child sexual exploitation.

Understanding first-hand what these young girls had inexplicably suffered, Eve also wanted to reconcile communities that had been shattered in the crossfire.

Already an active member of the community thanks to her role within the church, Eve was spurred on to run for office by Wickersley councillor, Emma Hoddinott.

Elected in 2015, Eve became a Labour candidate for the Swinton ward, before replacing Kath Sims when she retired from Rotherham West which covers Eve’s Masborough and Kimberworth stomping ground.

Eve has since helped her team make and scrutinise decisions while undertaking statutory duties. She holds surgeries at St John’s Green, Richmond Park and Masborough, as well as Bradgate Working Men’s Club where she loves to play a game of bingo or two.

On the road to becoming Mayor

Last year, Eve put herself forward for mayor after being encouraged by the positive change she’d started to see around the town and its communities.

“I thought about it for a while. I never expected to be in Cabinet or anything like that but I thought my political and priest background would prepare me for the role.

“People think you just rock up and be mayor. But the selection process is taken very seriously. I had to be interviewed by the Whips and give a presentation as to why I should be elected.”

After winning their vote, Eve takes over from Cllr Pitchley who has been the figurehead of Rotherham for the past year.

“I’ve been so lucky to be her deputy and will miss her greatly. But now I have some big shoes to fill as she did so much in her time. I’ll still be working at the hospital so you might not see me as often but I have some exciting changes and events planned.”

What’s on Eve’s list for her time in office:

First on the agenda was introducing the Community Angels initiative whereby those who have made a difference can be nominated to join Eve at the town hall for cream tea once a month. Launched in June, the first one saw veterans and their wives served cream tea by Eve and council leader, Chris Read.

The new mayor is also installing artist collections in residence at the town hall, all funded by business donations. Starting in the garden room, the art created by three unique local artists will travel across town to places that art isn’t usually seen such as the steel works, factories and working men’s clubs.

Contrary to common misconception, the town hall is such a welcoming place where everyone is friendly and down to earth. Eve’s plans and presence only add to knocking down the barriers that the door is closed to those outside the white stone walls.

Along with her deputy, Cllr Alan Buckley, a retired fireman and member of the Brinsworth and Catcliffe ward, Eve’s right-hand man will of course be her beloved Pat.

Following a series of bad health, Pat, who is now retired from the steel industry, will be her consort for the year.

“It’s perfect as I get to spend a lot of time with the man I love. Nobody understands me or this job role better than him. He’s been part of the trade unions himself and he’s spent weeks canvassing the streets with me before I was elected so he’s prepared for what will be involved for us both.”

Together, Eve and Pat will be supporting five different charities during their time in office, all reflecting different aspects of Eve’s life and her beliefs.

This year’s Rotherham Mayor’s Charities

To tie in with her roots at the homeless shelter and of course her chosen profession, the most obvious charity for Eve is Shiloh, a Christian charity in Rotherham who offer refuge to the needy. Her daughter Rosina, now 25, also volunteers her time for Shiloh.

As animal lovers with their own four-legged friend at home, Eve has chosen Thornberry Animal Sanctuary in North Anston and is determined to help fund new kennels up there. Look out for Lottie at upcoming events, Eve’s patterdale terrier mascot, who is searching for a forever home.

Real Rotherham

Thanks to the success of Carnival last year which brought so much positivity to Rotherham, Eve has chosen Open Minds Theatre to support this year in the hope of bringing the colourful display back to the town next year.

Run by REMA, Rotherham’s Ethic Minority Alliance, Eve is also supporting their Love is Louder project which has mixed art and love in live installations such as the Festival of Angels and Love Bomb as a peace-inciting response to the hate crime and marches which have overshadowed the town in recent years.

And adding a final charity into the mix, lifelong Chelsea fan Eve will support Rotherham United Community Sports Trust who have been active in expelling hate crime from the terraces at New York Stadium; her final event next springtime will be a Foot Ball at the stadium.

Along with her five chosen charities, Eve will also be heavily involved in other projects and events across the town, including helping marathon man Ray Matthews bring his ideas for a Rotherham half marathon to life.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea and something that Rotherham needs. I ran in the Love Later Life race for Age UK and myself and Sharon Kemp, the chief executive of the council, have made a commitment to go running together.”

A breath of fresh air

With an open love of 1950s fashion, she relished at the chance to be actively involved in the annual Vintage Hop.

“I’ve always gone all out at these past events with my outfits.  Although I don’t agree with 50s morals, I think their fashion celebrates curvy girls like myself. I love a petticoat or two and you’ll be seeing loads of different dress designs over the year, many of which I purchased from shops in the town centre.”

A patron for the town, Eve likes to keep things local. If she’s not having her hair, nails and eyelashes done at Kuttin-Kru she’s in the many tea rooms in the town having a bite to eat.

“I went to the Buckingham Palace garden party in May to represent the borough and Gemma from the Button Tin made my headpiece so I’m looking forward to working with her more this year.”

With race nights, community BBQs and church events in the pipeline, Eve is also looking forward to welcoming new citizens into the borough over the coming year.

“Before I officially became mayor, I got to observe the citizen awards. There were all these people new to both the country and Rotherham all dressed up so presentably. The little ones were stood there with their hands on their hearts singing our national anthem. It just made me cry.

“My son Adam works in New Zealand as a probation officer and he’s lived in Burma and India – the furthest I’ve ever been in Benidorm.”

A breath of fresh air and an uplifting change for Rotherham, we’re really excited to follow Eve’s journey over the next year. With strong beliefs and a genuine good heart, she is exactly what this town needs to push in the right direction.

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