It’s an honour usually reserved for well-known celebrities and even entire military regiments.

But epilepsy campaigner Joan Gorton is being given the Freedom of the Borough of Kirklees to mark 50 years since it was formed from several former councils in the Huddersfield and Dewsbury areas in April 1974.

The honour is also going to Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, CBE, who hails from Marsden and Mirfield-born Shakespearean and Hollywood actor Sir Patrick Stewart.

It’s such a rare honour the Freedom award has only been made six times in Kirklees’ history.

Joan, of Dalton, was very shocked to hear she was getting the award and sees it as Kirklees honouring all the volunteers in the town who do such great work for charities and the community.

The 89-year-old also very much regards it as being a shared one with her late husband, Tony, who died in October 2001 aged 91 after the couple had run Huddersfield Epilepsy Group for 50 years … and Joan is continuing with it alone.

“I’m still amazed to be given such an honour,” she said. “But I suppose it’s because I’m a true volunteer and Tony and I have given so much to the charity over the years.

“It was more than 50 years ago when Tony was chairman and the charity was short of a secretary so he asked if I could help out in the short-term until the charity found someone else. I’m still doing the role today.”

Joan Gorton (left) with Mayor of Kirklees Clr Cahal Burke

The Mayor of Kirklees, Clr Cahal Burke, said: “The granting of the Freedom of the Borough only happens on rare occasions and it honours figures who have made a significant contribution to life in their communities or achieved something outstanding.

“These individuals have done just that and I am proud that we can bestow the highest civic honour on them.”

Only two other individuals have received the Freedom of the Borough. They are former Huddersfield East MP Sir William (Bill) Mallalieu, who was honoured in January 1980, and Dewsbury-born first woman Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd in November 1992.

Also awarded the Freedom in the past were the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Volunteers (March 1979); the 122,000 citizens of the French town of Besançon to mark 50 years of twinning with Huddersfield in October 2005; the Yorkshire Regiment in September 2006; and the Rifles Regiment in July 2011.

The recipients of the recent awards will receive a scroll from Kirklees and their names are expected to be engraved on a plaque in Huddersfield Town Hall.

Joan and Tony (pictured below) were sparked into action to work tirelessly to improve epilepsy services in Huddersfield after their eldest child, Sarah, developed epilepsy and the couple found they had little to no support.

Over the years they have raised more than £80,000 for the charity and used to hold annual book sales which usually brought in at least £1,000.

They have continually campaigned for better healthcare services for people with epilepsy in their community, securing the appointments of the first consultant neurologist and epilepsy specialist nurse in Huddersfield. The neurologist, Dr Badr Dafalla, has only recently retired.

To get the specialist nurse the hospital trust asked Huddersfield Epilepsy Group to raise £12,000 to partially fund the first appointment many years ago.

They raised the money, the nurse was appointed and the specialist job has continued at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust ever since with Jenny Kelly the nurse currently in the role.

Under Joan and Tony’s guidance, Huddersfield Epilepsy Group has sponsored 50 nurses and allied staff in Kirklees to go on distance learning epilepsy diploma courses at Leeds Beckett and Edinburgh Napier Universities to enhance their knowledge of epilepsy. Many of them are learning disability nurses.

Huddersfield Epilepsy Group meets monthly at Huddersfield Mission on Lord Street and arranges guest speakers so it’s not all about epilepsy.

In 2017 Joan and Tony received charity Epilepsy Action’s Hilary Figg Award for long and distinguished service to people with epilepsy, prompting Epilepsy Action chief executive Phillip Lee to say at the time: “Joan and Tony’s extensive and tireless service to Epilepsy Action and people with epilepsy is truly admirable.

“The effects of their efforts are great and far-reaching. I have no doubt that the many positive contributions they have made to the lives of people with epilepsy across the Kirklees area will continue to have a positive impact for many years to come.”

Joan and Tony followed that up a year later by winning the Services to Charity award at the Huddersfield Examiner Community Awards in 2018.

Their daughter, Sarah, is now 64 and they have two other children, daughter Zia, 62, and son Alastair, 59, along with four grandchildren.

Joan provides advice, information and support between 10am and 4pm on 01484 427296 or email her at

Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.