Flood hero Joan chosen to officially reopen one of York’s most important buildings

VIP Joan Nelson cuts the ribbon to declare York Magistrates’ Court open. Photographs © D A Taylor
11 Apr 2016 @ 8.49 pm
| News

When York Magistrates’ Court was officially re-opened a few days ago, you might have expected some kind of celebrity to be invited to cut the ribbon.

Instead, the magistrates chose someone without whom the building would still be unusable – security person Joan Nelson.

For the last 12 years, Joan has been a very familiar face around the Magistrates’ Court. She checks people’s credentials as they come in, keeps the peace in the corridors, and deals with any trouble.

She may not be as tall as a lot of the people who pass through the building, but a few stern words from Joan have been known to quell even the most aggressive troublemaker.

She’s always the first to arrive every morning, and prides herself on keeping the building, inside and out, free from litter and mess. She loves her job, and refers to the JPs who work there as “my magistrates”.

Flood recovery

Joan and the court team
Joan and the court team

When the court buildings flooded, back on December 27, 2015, Joan rolled up her sleeves and oversaw the whole process of recovery from the damage caused.

She arrived at work at 7am, Monday to Friday – and some weekends – to allow access to the team of workers dealing with the mess and damage. The job had to be completed as soon as possible, and some days were very long.

She has also had to deal with defendants and witnesses turning up at the front door, when they had not noticed that their summons papers instructed them to go to “York Magistrates, sitting at Leeds”!

Initially, she had to spend her whole day breathing through a mask, until the air was decreed safe to breathe.

A smile after the ribbon-snipping duty is done
A smile after the ribbon-snipping duty is done

As recently as two weeks ago, there was still no heating in the building, as the boiler had been flooded, so Joan was permanently working in very cold – often freezing – temperatures. Through all this, she hasn’t taken a single day off.

When magistrates began to discuss who should officially reopen the court, there was really only one name to consider.

Rather than a celebrity who might know nothing about the problems the court building had faced, they asked Joan – the woman who had masterminded the entire operation with determination, humour and absolute dedication.