The parish is divided into two electoral wards, Pickering East and Pickering West. Pickering Beck is the boundary between them. Each ward is represented on the council by six councillors. The total number of electors is approximately 5573, almost equally divided between the two wards.
The civil parish of Pickering is made up of urban and rural areas. The town itself sits astride the A170, the main road between Thirsk and Scarborough, and the A64/169 which connects Whitby with York. The major cities of York, Hull, Leeds and Middlesborough are all easily accessible. The nearest rail link is at Malton, eight miles to the south, where connections can be made to York and, from there, the national high speed rail network. Pickering used to have a railway link with Malton. Ryedale District Council, through its Local Development Framework, will seek to protect disused railway lines and promote their re-use for sustainable transport and recreation.
The parish is linear in shape. Travelling north takes one into upland farming and the North York Moors National Park. To the south lies the rich arable land of the Vale of Pickering and the small communities of Black Bull and Beansheaf. The majority of the population – the estimate was 7270 in 2007 (electorate 2008 is 5547) – reside in the town.
Pickering is not only the main employment base for both secondary and tertiary industries within the area, it is the main service centre. Insurance, legal and banking services are based in the town. In addition to a range of retail outlets there is a Library and Information Centre, Police and Fire Stations, Surgery and dental surgeries and clinic. These factors, together with kinship ties, explain the inter-relationship between Pickering, as the central point for social, economic and community provision, and neighbouring villages.
The importance of the town is underlined by ecclesiastical and cultural factors. The focus of Roman Catholic activity for the Pickering area is at St Joseph’s Church on Potter Hill though its roots date back to the Anglo-Saxon period and to a structure on the site of the present Anglican church (dedicated to St Peter and St Paul). The history of Independency, Primitive Methodism and Quakerism in the area is inextricably bound up with their buildings in, respectively, Hungate, Potter Hill, and Castlegate. The religious communities in the town and throughout the area further not just their own members’ spiritual development but involve themselves in charitable and educational activities.
Evidence of the rural activities and traditions of the town and area are housed in the Beck Isle Museum, an important visitor and educational resource. In contrast the Memorial Hall, Pickering’s community hall, provides a venue for contemporary cultural activities and is the administrative centre of the Ryedale Festival.