Rory met on Friday with the Principal of Newton Rigg, Wes Johnson, and welcomed the new director of its National Centre for the Uplands, Julia Aglionby, in a meeting to discuss how the college can develop to be a national centre of excellence in uplands-related issue, and how more generally it is continuing to expand and meet the needs and demands of prospective students.
The meeting focused on the importance of the National Centre for the Uplands which now operates through Newton Rigg. Part-funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, the centre aims to support and develop the next generation of upland farmers, land managers and businesses by providing the only course in the UK which focuses specifically on the necessary business skills, knowledge and practical considerations unique to the uplands area.
Speaking on the National Centre for the Uplands, Rory stated: “A National Centre for the Uplands is an excellent thing for us to have right here in the heart of Penrith and the Border, and indeed in Cumbria. The past 18 months of terrible weather conditions in our region has made life incredibly difficult for many of our local farmers – straining the viability of their businesses to the limit. A centre like this one, which offers courses and advice and which recognises the very specific demands that the upland environment places upon a farm, will be of enormous local and national benefit. Julia and her colleagues have clearly put in a lot of hard work on this project, and I am sure that under her guidance it will be a fantastic success.”
Julia Aglionby states that there are around 13,000 upland farm holdings in England and there is the prospect of over 60% of these farmers giving up within 15 years. She said: “In order to maintain a healthy upland hill farm industry, farmers must be flexible in the way they manage their farms. Being able to assess if your land might take a hydro scheme, a tea-room or the like is as important as continuing with your livestock – that’s where the centre really helps.”
Under new leadership, Newton Rigg has recognised the need to innovate and attract new students to ensure its future viability. One potential option that has now also been put forward by the local MP is whether Newton Rigg could act as a satellite site for outdoor activity courses currently only available at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales.
Rory continued: “I have been and always will be supportive of Newton Rigg. The nature and type of courses that it is able to offer make its value to the local area far greater than a college of a similar size would perhaps otherwise denote. I am always looking for ways in which I can help to further secure and guarantee its future. Uplands is a great beginning, and there is also, I believe potential in working with the outdoor industry in Cumbria.”