Support for Councils and Clerks

John Pennell: Reflections

Tim O’Riordan OBE DL FBA

22nd June 2024

We gather to honour the life and being of John Pennell. In so doing we form a unique congregation.

We all are individual as this is the essence of that most elusive of phenomena: consciousness. But in sharing John’s life we enable our collective consciousness to merge.

That entwining can never be undone.

We leave each other with a greater comradeship in our commitment to be ambassadors for what John achieved and would have achieved had he remained with us for longer.

John lives. This is because what he believed and enacted was geared to the betterment of all people and our amazing planetary home.

I share my experiences with John over the past thirty years with joy and with dedication.

He revelled in championing both the technology for salvation and the perpetuation of the natural world.

He installed a reverse air conditioner in his home, one of the first of what we now call a heat pump. He realised that in connected and concentrated scale, heat pumps could be fitted to provide thermal comfort for many homes though providing combined warmth.

Add energy storage batteries and all homes for the future will be comfortable in cold and in heat at lower cost and greater thermal efficiency than creating separate schemes for individual houses.

As in so many matters, John was way ahead of his time. We are scrabbling about, likely to add considerably to the disruption and cost of every home to ensure carbon free thermal comfort. Thermal comfort is the correct objective, as we will experience very hot summers and hence will require the heat pump to act in reverse as an air conditioner for our pleasant existence. John looked for the collective heat pump to overcome what will otherwise be a painful journey for many who wish to live a lower carbon existence.

John loves his woodlands. The marvellous, noble, walnut tree which bestows its name on his family home, bestrides his garden and offered him permanent pleasure. He planted an arboretum of many hundreds of trees on his land. They will survive his grandchildren’s grandchildren. He revelled in the majesty of nature’s being, the essence of life on Earth.

In his long association with the parish and town councils of Norfolk, John held together a wide variety of local governments, all of which are critical to the livelihoods of the county’s citizens.

He initiated and helped to establish the wellbeing programme for the Norfolk Association of Local Councils.

This contains three strands. One was to promote low carbon living. He sought electric mobile buses to provide a dial-in service for those who chose not to own a vehicle. He also championed the provision of electric vehicle charging points in every parish so that everyone could hook up, by agreement, in their locality.

He promoted the cause of a carbon tracking website called This provided a template of ways to reduce carbon emissions, for households and whole communities, in order of contribution of removal. Cutting carbon emissions brings an act of commitment to everyone and a strong sense of pride in the whole participating community. These are vital ingredients for a climate safeguarded future, which we will all appreciate beyond measure as an unsettled climate strengthens its grip. Knowing how we can help to offset this danger, no matter in small steps, is very much part of John’s legacy. Every little act counts.

The second strand of the wellbeing initiative was the enhancement of nature in our hearts, minds, diets, and activities. He combined with the Norfolk Green Care Network to enable parishes to work together to provide places for new nature to flourish. He was all too aware that a more localising people, not always rushing around in vehicles, would benefit from the peace and spirituality of being in nature which they deliberately created and protected. Mental and physical health are enhanced by such spaces and are diminished at the nation’s peril if these vital experiences are not provided. Wet soil and refreshing waters lock up airborne carbon, so here is a glorious double benefit for offspring to cherish.

The third component of the wellbeing initiative was the facility of helping the lonely, the anxious, the unsafe, and the insecure to find solace in companionship. The parish provides the basis for safeguard. During the pandemic this was of huge value to many. The communal sense of caring remains to this day as a legacy of this initiative.

One of John’s greatest joys was the decision by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Lady Dannatt, to become Patron of the Association.

In all these endeavours, John believed that they should last forever. Well beyond his lifetime. John is a big man with an enormous heart. Here is where our collective and very special consciousness must carry onward what John began. We are his emissaries.

Death is a transition. Death provides the gateway to a new life, unconstrained by mortality. John lives. We are proud that in his name, and in the name of the glorious Pennell family, we will carry his enduring flame through the generations to come.