An ARC News Service report. – At the Rural Summit at Tennants Auction Centre in Leyburn on Wednesday, November 19 BBC radio journalist Andrew Fagg described what it was like to return to Hawes in Wensleydale even though he couldn’t find employment there, while his wife, Emily, described the positive and negative aspects of rural life. David Hartley, managing director of Wensleydale Dairy Products, reported on how the rebirth of the Wensleydale Creamery had created 246 jobs. John Moore of NyNet gave a progress report on the provision of Superfast Broadband to such rural areas and Abbie Rhodes, manager of the Upper Wensleydale Community Office, reported on how that had developed and now included the Little White Bus service. Richmondshire District councillors Mick Griffiths and Jill McMullen took part in the debate. (Below – Andrew and Emily Fagg with their daughter Chrisyta)
Andrew described how, when working in the BBC news room early one morning, he had a look at the J R Hopper website as he needed some diversion.
He recounted: “And there it was – the national school house for sale in Hawes- very run down. Lovely simple building in a lovely setting next to St Margaret’s church. Here was a building which needed a bit of love and attention, and the school master’s cottage which we could live in next door. We could restore this place and bring it back to community use. It was an opportunity for us to contribute to the community.
“I’m a Christian and I believe God wants us to live here, to serve, to minister, to learn. I want to become part of a Christian movement here in the Dales.”
They were able to buy a home in Hawes because of the price they got for their two-bedroom flat in London. He has continued working in London, however, and explained: “We may have found this project in Hawes but we haven’t found a job yet. I can’t find a very local job in my work which would pay enough. My best friends couldn’t be based in the Dales – they rely on the connections within the big city.
“In Hawes it seems to be that the big jobs are in agriculture, the service sector serving the tourists and the small army of people who maintain the built environment of the dales. When you get beyond that the opportunities are quite small.”
Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure such as with transport connections. “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just step on a train in Hawes, go to Northallerton and then to London. Infrastructure like that could really bring economic opportunities to the Upper Dales,” he said. He was also waiting to see how Superfast Broadband would work.
Emily commented that the very basic services in such a rural area were a challenge particularly as she depended upon the bus service during the week. As a city girl who had grown up in London she was also aware how difficult it could be for outsiders to feel accepted in such a rural community.
Andrew explained: “Maybe people don’t know quite how to welcome outsiders into the group. It’s not a deliberate choice that people make but (maybe because) not many people come so they are not very well practised at it.”
For both of them, however, there is much to enjoy in and around Hawes. He said: “I grew up with the Fells all around. Mum grew up on a farm. There’s a sense of having roots here. I don’t want to get away from them – I want to come back. And I love the environment here.”
Emily explained that there was such a sense of history when driving around the area for they could tell their two children stories that related to their own family. She compared life in the city to that in the village where it was possible to become part of a community. “It’s a unique aspect of this area that children often attend the same schools as their parents and their grandparents. The (fact that) the majority of the people in the area know your children is really a very special thing. They talk to shopkeepers, they hand over money – they are becoming responsible little adults. Everything is more relaxed.
When asked if greed was a factor in the problems facing rural communities Andrew said it could be a problem but there was very little showing off of wealth. He added: “One factor in the Dales is the ethos of hard work – people work really hard here and they respect hard work. One of the things I love about living in the dales is the independent spirit.”
That independent, hard working spirit has been very evident at the Wensleydale Creamery. When the managing director, David Hartley, spoke at the Summit he especially thanked Coun John Blackie who, he said, had been very much involved with the rebirth of the Creamery after it was closed in 1992. At that time he and 58 others lost their jobs.
Now Wensleydale Dairy Products has an annual turnover of over £25million, and employs 246 people, 182 at Hawes and 64 at Kirkby Malzeard. Of those 61 were from Eastern Europe with the majority being full time employees who were living in the area. “Without them we would be relying on more agency staff. We are grateful to them for settling in the area and working for us.”
He was particularly proud of the fact that 75 per cent of the 28 managers and supervisors were home grown. He explained: “Wensleydale Dairy Products is an independent company which means we have to do everything ourselves. So there is a cycle of employment opportunity at all levels because we have jobs at all levels. We want to offer opportunities in training and development. So we give people the opportunities to become skilled and valuable employees.
“We need access to a pool of willing employees and we need to be able to attract the best to our business and to this area. To create and retain this pool we need employees who can afford to live in the area.
“To create and maintain this pool of talent we need excellent education provision, we need affordable housing schemes, good transport infrastructure, and a world class communication network – Superfast Broadband is where it’s at. Because we are operating on a world scale it has to be the best and to do that you need talented people.”
The company is now investing £5 million into improving its facilities – but that has meant borrowing from banks. That is not easy for a SME (small, medium sized enterprise) which is investing in a brand rather than buildings or machines, he said.
“We have a fantastic USP (unique selling point) for we are the only makers of Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese in the world. It took seven years to get European protection.
“We are an award winning cheese maker and blender of cheese – cheese making is at the heart of what we do. We are a company with a recognisable brand and a thousand years of cheese making history. We don’t concentrate on the past but we focus on the future. Success to us is being relevant to modern consumers. We produce about 4,000 tons of cheese a year which goes to all the major UK retailers and we export to many countries around the world. “
Wensleydale Dairy Products is committee to the area. Our brand identity is focussed on Hawes, Wensleydale and Yorkshire… and all the values associated with that. We are committed to the rural economy and to the local farmers. Without the farmers we have no milk. And if we don’t have the milk we don’t have the flavour and we don’t have a business.”
In his speech John Moore, chief executive of NyNet, said that the objective of Superfast North Yorkshire was to provide such broadband connections to all premises in the region by 2017. But provision in Richmondshire lagged behind the rest of North Yorkshire because of the topography.
“We are facing technical difficulties and won’t be able to lay fibre to all locations – and that makes it costly.” As they would reach the point where subsidies would outweigh the costs it was necessary to stimulate demand for superfast broadband in the areas where it was already available.
He said that broadband was now the fourth utility and helped businesses to store data more securely. It affected house prices; assisted with retaining businesses and skills; was becoming a necessity for farmers; and attracted more tourists to the area. Broadband he said created capacity and potential – and equality of opportunity.
About 17 miles of cable had to be laid to bring Hawes into the modern world of Superfast Broadband and the Upper Wensleydale Community Office will certainly benefit from that.
The manager, Abbie Rhodes, described how this had begun 15 years ago when with a couple members of staff and a handful of volunteers it began to provide centralised administrative services to the communities in Upper Wensleydale. It is now a community office, district council office, and a local police office as well as providing a full county council library service. It runs the Little White Bus service with the help of 24 volunteer drivers and is now a post office as well. This has meant Hawes still has a sorting office, two postmen and the outreach Post Office services to Bainbridge and Askrigg have been retained.
“When local authorities couldn’t provide as much, with good old community spirit and by working in partnership we began to achieve this,” she said. “Our philosophy is – give people a choice, don’t make them have to choose. We are looking to provide the essential services within their community. With the best will in the world each service would no doubt struggle to survive on their own but by working together under one roof each individual organisation helps sustain them all.”
This means that services in rural areas need not be compromised and people would not have to migrate to large towns, she stated.
Both Coun Mick Griffiths and Coun Jill McMullen reminded the meeting that it wasn’t just the communities in the Dales which were in danger. This was a problem for the rural communities throughout Richmondshire.
Coun Griffiths said he lived just nine miles from Darlington but they had the same problems such as the lack of services, the closure of post offices and less children in the schools.
Coun McMullin asked if the Little White Bus scheme could be introduced to other areas. She pointed out that even those living close to Darlington had difficulty accessing that town by public transport.
Richard Flinton , chief executive of NYCC, responded that the county council not only had funds for existing schemes but also to assist with setting up new ones.
Coun Blackie, who is the leader of Richmondshire District Council, emphasised that the summit was for the whole of Richmondshire.
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