Council boss 'put the pride back into Proud Preston'
This week marks a new start for Lorraine Norris.
The former chief executive of Preston City Council will be meeting up with friends and enjoying a slightly later get-up time for the early morning dog walk.
Friday, May 18, was her last day and - coincidentally - her 60th birthday. After nine years at the helm of the local authority she has chosen to retire.
Her tenure has overseen the establishment of City Deal, the redevelopment of the bus station and the markets and several other schemes that have changed the face of the city.
And minutes before the Post sits down in her grand office in the town hall, Lorraine has been showered with tributes in what was one of her final meetings inside the council chamber.
“It’s awful,” comes the reply. “Well, it’s lovely, of course it is, but you just want to curl up and get under the desk. I wanted to go and hide underneath there.”
Having come into the top job in 2011 after the collapse of the city’s Tithebarn Project and with the nation coming to terms with the impact of the financial crisis, elected members last week were in no doubt that their outgoing chief executive is leaving with Preston in better shape.
“It was mentioned (in the chamber) that when I took over it wasn’t the greatest timing,” Lorraine explains.
“I think the thing we can be most proud of is we’ve navigated out of that having moved forward during a period that has been quite difficult. But this council can’t do any of those things on its own, we are relatively speaking one of the smaller public organisations in the city and we need partners. I think the council has been relatively successful in convening people to sit down and say these are the problems in Preston and this is how we’re going to solve them.”
After a considerable stint in the top role, picking out one standout moment may be a difficult task.
But with her time coinciding with a Preston Guild, Lorraine’s role as Guild Clerk makes for an easy decision.
The mum-of-two said: “It’s part of Preston’s DNA, isn’t it? Running up to it we were so busy but the day we did the first proclamation from the steps of the Harris, I remember just before, while I was standing there, it hit me (the history of it all).
“There have been so many people fulfilling that role down the years and now it’s me.
“It just dawned on me that I happened to be a link in that chain of continuity for Preston. That will stand out, it happens once every 20 years, it doesn’t happen for every chief executive.”
Lorraine’s replacement is Adrian Phillips, the former director of environment and veteran of 32 years service at the authority, who starts his time as interim chief executive this week. There is also a new leader, with Labour’s Matthew Brown replacing Peter Rankin who has worked in partnership with Lorraine for many years.
“There’s a continuity here; the management team, a majority of them have worked here before I was. There is a stable and steady team here.”
Having taken advice not to rush into anything as she begins her retirement, Lorraine is looking forward to doing the “ordinary” things.
She said: “I’m going to take a bit of time to find myself again without this job. I can’t imagine doing absolutely nothing, I’d like to do some voluntary work but I won’t be going off immediately to another job or something like that. I will spend some time doing the ordinary things in life.
"Whereas I might get up early to walk the dog before work, now I can get up a little bit later.
“This job can fill your weeks and sometimes fill your weekends, so I’m going to let life fill them.
“Lots of people have said to me give yourself time to think about what you want to do and don’t dive into anything straightaway. I’m sure I will miss it, of course I will. I will miss the people, in any job you spend a lot of time with those people.
“There will be parts I won’t miss, as there are with any job.
“But I’m not leaving at a time when I can’t wait to get out of the place. I’m leaving looking forward to what might come next.”
Shortly after came the tributes to Lorraine with leader of the Liberal Democrats group Coun Pauline Brown describing her as having “brought the pride back to Proud Preston.”
“It was a lovely thing to say, I’m really flattered but it’s not one person who does any of that,” Lorraine says, modestly.
“I’m not Boudica charging down Fishergate. Sometimes I describe it as being like you’re trying to conduct an orchestra but if people don’t have the instruments or the right music you’re up there looking like a chump, so it’s got to be a team game.
“One of the great things about Preston is there are so many people interested in its success. From community groups, businesses, public sector. We can’t take that for granted, it doesn’t happen everywhere.”