Creating a vibrant business economy in the Lakes

Car parks full, park and ride schemes mooted. Local housing too expensive for young people to stay in the area. We have too many visitors? We need more visitors?

Have you noticed how certain themes keep recurring on a cyclical basis in the Lake District? And not very much happens.

The Lakes: visitor destination, but a high tech business hub, too?

We are excited to be part of the Great Place: Lakes and Dales project which aims to create a “sustainable, resilient, creative community and economy, which will retain and attract younger people and business to the area to influence, support and create our future economy.”

It’s led by SLDC and Craven District Council, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Park Authorities. And it’s backed by big money: Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund have awarded £1.34million for this innovative project which, it’s hoped, will boost the local economy through celebrating local culture, arts and heritage.

But we were warned at the time: “With an ageing population we need to take action to attract and retain more young people. Only young people and families will ensure the survival of our village schools, provide a skilled workforce for local businesses, and keep our districts vibrant and attractive for visitors.”

So what’s been happening since? Where are the ideas that will take us forward and ensure that our creative young people, who might need to move away to study and launch their careers, will be able to return to the area and play their part?

Now a business leader is recommending that the Lakes should be a magnet for high tech firms who would benefit from a move out of London. Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, argued that the national park should become the ‘destination of choice’ for tech and service businesses looking to relocate from the capital. Sensible idea, indeed.

I’ve been down that route: a degree in Brighton, jobs with leading design agencies in London, exciting projects to work on world-wide. But I knew what – and where – inspired me as an artist and designer, and it had to be back “home” in Windermere when I set up my own agency. I was lucky because my family were still here, and I’d been earning enough to come back and settle in the national park.

Yet though I love being here, and can’t imagine a better place to raise my family, I’m struck by the lack of creative imagination and vision on the part of our planners. Do tourism resources have to be concentrated on the A591 corridor, for example? What about the neglected communities on the fringes of the national park where local housing is not prohibitively expensive, where there’s a willing workforce… and where there’s former semi-industrial land which could be developed for tourism attractions. Such as …zip wires, perhaps?

We need some doing as well as talking. Rather than endless discussions about our ageing community and our fossilised views, can we summon the creative energy to DO something? For a start, how about building communities of affordable eco houses for families?

We have to encourage young people, if not to stay here, at least to return with knowledge and experience. To draw in younger people we need the types of businesses that will attract them, and pay good wages. How about HQ for a large IT business like FaceBook?

Doing something is vital to strengthen the economy of our rural communities and help make them sustainable for the future, to prevent Bowness becoming one big car park, to bring visitors here on clean, modern, regular train services which arrive at a gateway worthy of a world heritage site.

We need to look elsewhere, beyond our comfort zone, to see the impact that great design is having on other parts of the world. We need the courage to recognise that “contemporary” and “conservation” are words that belong comfortably in the same sentence. And we need to engage the enthusiasm of a younger generation, rather than pretending we know it all.





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