I was beyond gutted to hear the news last week that my old friend Mel Dyke had died. I didn’t think it was possible our ‘Mrs Barnsley’ would ever leave the planet, but that’s what happens with some people, you automatically presume they will go on forever and you hope somehow that they will and then it’s a shock to realise they aren’t immortal.

I never saw her looking less than a duchess with her beautiful clothes and elegant golden French pleat, not a hair out of place and her gorgeous smiling face. She was a proper lady, but also one with a wicked sense of humour. She once told me she frequented Aldi a lot ‘so she could always have champagne and smoked salmon in her fridge’ she said, which she proved once by whipping out when I dropped her off at home. What a bugger I was driving! I’ve seen her slow down a bit over the past couple of years and not zipping around in her smart little mini but I never thought she’d stop. I’ve had lots of in depth conversations with Mel over the years, real heart to hearts and I’m incredibly sad that I won’t be able to have any more. She packed a lot into her years, but it’s never enough.

I first met her when I was a fledgling author and trying to network to get my name out there. There were plenty of folk who wouldn’t give me the time of day who are all over me now like flies around the proverbial… but I never forgot those first people who extended their hands of friendship because they wanted to help me, not because they wanted help from me and they always get first call on my available time. Mel was right at the top of that list and because of that, any favour she asked of me was one I was glad to meet.

She was world class at networking, but not for herself, she delighted in setting up channels of communication between people that she knew would be mutually beneficial to them. She would do anything for the arts and got rightly angry when there were cuts to any of the services and she battled for change. She was passionate about the benefits of teaching the arts in schools and was especially a cheerleader for the arts in Barnsley because she loved the town, loved to show the rest of the planet what we had to offer here. And she loved to watch young people of the town blossom and grow and become successful because of where they came from – not in spite of coming from here. She was rightly so very proud of the Barnsley Youth Choir, she couldn’t have shouted more loudly about it.

She was a brilliant raconteur, she never ran out of stories and I could have listened to her for hours – in fact I sometimes did over lunch or coffee – or wine. She might have loved her hometown but even more than that she adored her family, they were her world and I can’t imagine what they are feeling other than utterly bereft at the loss of such an inspiring matriarch.

So, Mel, if you are up there reading this perchance, a big thank you for your kindness to me over the years, your generosity, your wit and your wisdom, your fun and your wonderful irreverence, your championing of Barnsley and its people, its women and children especially. You were beyond special and I am one of the many who will miss you so very much.