Doncaster businessman Baron Kirkham set to be given freedom of the borough

Doncaster businessman Baron Graham Kirkham is set to become the very first person to be given the freedom of the borough since the granting of city status.
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The 78-year-old, who created the DFS furniture empire more than fifty years ago, has been put forward for the prestigious honour by fellow freeman Bobbie Roberts - and if approved by the City of Doncaster Council later this month will see him join a select list which also includes Afghanistan war hero Ben Parkinson and former Doncaster Rovers ace James Coppinger.

The accolade of Honorary Freeman is the highest honour that the Council can grant a local resident and a decision will be made on July 13.

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Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones said: “This is a significant milestone for the City of Doncaster as councillors consider this prestigious accolade which is reserved for those who have shown unwavering dedication and made extraordinary contributions to our community.”

Baron Kirkham is set to be given the freedom of Doncaster.Baron Kirkham is set to be given the freedom of Doncaster.
Baron Kirkham is set to be given the freedom of Doncaster.

Civic Mayor Councillor Duncan Anderson added: "Over the years, Doncaster has seen fit to bestow the honour of ‘The Freedom of the Borough'. As our status has now changed, the Freedom of the City award is the highest honour that the Council can award to one of its citizens and marks a new chapter in the history of our proud city."

Adopted at the age of three weeks, he is the only son of Edlington miner Tom Kirkham and his wife Elsie and after passing the Eleven Plus exam, he attended Maltby Grammar School and hoped to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot.

But failing to get the required five O levels, Kirkham got a job in a local furniture store which led to his future business success.

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In 1969, having visited a few manufacturers in his daily work, he decided that making furniture was relatively easy and that by cutting out the warehouse dealers in the middle of the supply chain, he could sell direct to the public at cheaper prices.

Kirkham rented a room above a snooker hall in Carcroft, and started making furniture upstairs and retailing it downstairs, forming the firm called Northern Upholstery.

By 1983, Darley Dale–based Direct Furnishing Supplies had become one of Northern Upholstery’s biggest suppliers.

When Direct Furnishing Supplies went bankrupt with debts of £900,000, Kirkham bought it, renaming it DFS and taking on the chain’s stores and staff.

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In 1993, DFS was floated on the stock market and valued at £271 million.

The news brought the Kirkham family to the attention of thieves, who in 1994 broke into the family home at Sprotbrough while they were on holiday. The burglars bound and gagged the housekeeper and made off with money and jewels worth £2.4m – later recovered, but still South Yorkshire's largest armed robbery.

In April 2010, DFS was sold to private equity firm Advent International for a reported £500m. He also owns a stake in Iceland supermarket as well as Doncaster’s Whitby’s fish and chip restaurant chain.

A strong political and financial supporter of the Conservative Party, Baron Kirkham is one of South Yorkshire's richest men, with a personal fortune estimated at £1 billion.

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Beginning in the late 80s, Baron Kirkham had donated more than £4 million in loans to the party by the mid 1990s, receiving a knighthood in 1996.

In 1999, he was made a life peer as Baron Kirkham, of Old Cantley in the County of South Yorkshire.

He lives in the Grade II*-listed Georgian mansion Cantley Hall which he bought in 1990 from motor dealer John Carnell, and which is reportedly decorated with artworks by the likes of John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Édouard Manet.

Conferring the Freedom of the City on Lord Kirkham would acknowledge the commercial, charitable, social and civic contributions that he has made to promote the reputation and prosperity of the City of Doncaster, a council statement said.

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The recommendation was made by Bobbie Roberts MBE, a Freeman of Doncaster, former chair of the Doncaster Magistrates bench and recipient of Doncaster Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement award.

Others to have received the award include Last Of The Summer Wine writer Roy Clarke, former Doncaster Council leader Gordon Gallimore, former union chief Rodney Bickerstaff, Doncaster Youth Jazz Association founder John Ellis, Doncaster Cancer Detection Trust stalwart Jeanette Fish, opera singer Lesley Garrett, The Venerable Robert A Fitzharris, fairground supremo Roger Tuby, boxer and marathon runner Tommy Joyce, jazz star Dennis Rollins former school head Tony Storey, Olympic tae kwondo star Sarah Stephenson and former mayors Tony Sockett and Yvonne Woodcock, as well as Ben Parkinson and James Coppinger.