Monthly Archives: October 2014


Rory Stewart MP has kept up the pressure in his on-going campaign to secure guaranteed and affordable school transport provision for students in Cumbria, by lobbying Education Minister David Laws to look further at the impact of government and council policy on Cumbrian families. Since the County Council announced at the start of the year that it would remove subsidies for school transport provision, the Penrith and the Border MP has raised the issue on several occasions with ministers in the Department of Education, Department for Transport and the No.10 Policy Unit to highlight the anger and frustration of many families in local rural communities who this Summer faced the possibility that their children would be unable to get to school by any means.

Over the Summer months, Rory worked with schools, parish councils, parents and bus companies to find last minute solutions that ensured students would have access to their local sixth form. Up until this year, the county council has guaranteed seats on a school bus for sixth-form students, but this year chose to remove guaranteed provision, in an effort to meet budget saving targets.

Rory Stewart said:

“Transport to and from school for our children should be something parents can take for granted. This Summer however, dozens of worried and rightfully angry parents have contacted my office, uncertain as to how the council expects their child to get to school. I am not convinced the government has properly ‘rural-proofed’ compulsory education up until 18, and I have stressed this repeatedly to ministers. At the same time however, this was a decision taken at county council level,  and I don’t think local authorities fully considered the impact this would have on families in our rural communities. The problem will be even worse next year unless a solution is found, and I would urge county council to review this decision as a priority.”

Fell. Mire. Heath. Moor.

Fell. Mire. Heath. Moor. Each generation has found its own particular upland landscape. On my walk last week, the rain did not stop. I slowed to two miles an hour and stared at the wet ground. The colours were more muted, and more extreme than I had remembered – the cherry-brown grass, and the yellow-brown moss, blazed like scarlet and chrome. The rain-drops clustered in their thousands on every knot and tip of heather. The orbs of glittering light pulled slowly away from their dark centres, so that each drop stretched into a crown and a pendant, like an acorn on its stalk.

I noticed the dense fields of pellets, which marked the nest of the mother grouse, and another brown paste from the grouse, which I did not understand. A hundred yards further on, all the hawk had left was two black feathered wings, joined by a fragile skeleton. When I picked it up, I felt a sudden nip on my fingers, from the beak in the bare skull, swinging in on its long spine. I spotted a spider on a rain flecked web. I saw the geese turning back from the low cloud, and the ridge line, that blocked their flight to Africa. An hour later what remained of the baby hare suggested that it had just been on the point of growing its white winter-coat. I missed, and misunderstood, a lot. I glimpsed a fern in passing, and regretted I had not stopped because I did not see another in the next six miles. What seemed to be a hind was only a thick tuft of yellowing grass. What seemed twigs, were antlers. The stag rose from the hollow, only sixty yards away; it paused, sluggish after the rut, then staring straight at me shook the brilliant pearls of rain slowly from its black ruff.

But the moorland was not as ‘untouched’ as it seemed. You could see traces of human effort everywhere. Farmers had burned back the scrub, and grazed cattle and sheep on this land, two thousand years ago: the patches of untidy grass, and neat lawn were now hidden in heather, but their stones remained. Dorothy Wordsworth noted the process in 1805: “We were passing, without notice, a heap of scattered stones round which was a belt of green grass – green, and as it seemed rich, where all else was either poor heather and coarse grass, or unprofitable rushes and spongy moss…the heap of stones had been a hut where a family was then living, who had their winter habitation in the valley.” A slate, marked with paint, showed that the heather bank had been a stand for shooting grouse. A track had been a drove road, and the ruined building, a thousand feet below, had been built by a medieval bishop as a shelter for travellers. You could see the straight lines that marked the patch in the field, where the house had cut its peat.

But our predecessors found other things in this same landscape. A thousand years ago such moorland was, for the Beowulf writer, a place for a demon. It was the lonely “fastness…by misty crags…windy headlands, fenways fearful” in which the monster Grendel lived. Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s King Lear found the heath a landscape, in which to go mad. Charlotte Bronte made it a place for Heathcliff’s despotism. Dr. Johnson found it offensively unproductive: the “eye is astonished and repelled by this wide extent of hopeless sterility…matter incapable of form or usefulness…quickened only with one sullen power of useless vegetation.” And Walter Scott found it morally impressive: “I like the very nakedness of the land; it has something bold, and stern, and solitary about it.” Today, people in fleeces with the acronyms of different agencies can look at the same moorland and see in it, not predators, nor mania, power, sterility, nor virtue, but instead an engine for carbon capture, or ‘bio-diversity’, or flood control.

For me, last week, the fell seemed improbably alien. It resembled a tropical swamp seen from far above – the peat-puddles, lagoons; the heather, a mangrove swamp; the patches of pale dying grass, a great savannah. The peat-hags on the facing slopes had the silhouettes of pot-bellied Mesopotamian Gods. Nearer, it was a living reef. The lichens and ferns were coral, and the pink-brown moss a jelly-fish. I pulled a piece of blackened wood from a bog. It was, it seemed, a piece of Scots pine, preserved in the damp soil, from a time – perhaps two thousand years ago – when this had all been forest. It had acquired the shape of a fish.

Thus each generation finds in this wet upland a different landscape. How will our descendants see it? What aspects of the future will repel them and involve them in this moorland? Certainly, their archaeologists and historians will uncover ever more about the ghosts of farmers who were driven from the empty slopes; their scientists will describe, over trillions of pages, every moss, and lichen, grass, and fungus; they will destroy and protect new sections of the heath, and they will discover fresh interests and obsessions, which have nothing to do with the British landscape. Yet our great grandchildren – modern, intimidated, disappointed, and exhilarated – will, we hope, still enter the wet treeless upland ground, thread a path through the heather, and conjure their own Grendels on the fellside.

The Genius of Local Industry

“I have no idea,’ said my father, ‘how Britain survives – when we don’t make anything anymore.” Producing food and manufacturing goods is relatively easy to understand. You can watch a farmer take a fellside, drain, lime, plough and plant, and create food from wasteland. You could watch him design a new plough, which could be dragged by two plough horses, instead of two horses and two oxen. Or you could watch a mill, take raw cotton and turn it into cloth that was sold in fifty countries. But all this has changed. When my father was 25, British industry accounted for 41% of the British economy. By 2013, it was just 14%. 79 per cent of our national economy is now ‘services’. What is Britain actually doing?

The answer is tens of thousands of different things. I spent last week in the Gilwilly industrial estate, just North of Penrith. At first, it could be depressing – a 1946 government scheme allocated a patch of ground, adjoining some railway workers cottages, for light industry. The earliest structures seem to have been little more than asbestos sheds, on wasteland. Even today, you can drive in circles completely disoriented between the wire compounds, and cul de sacs. But Gilwilly is in fact a small miracle, and a powerful example for British business.

By the 1990s, there were over 60 businesses on the estate. Some still responded to traditional Cumbria rural life – from animal feed, agricultural machinery, stables, wrought-iron fencing, and equestrian supplies. Some to Cumbria strengths in food. Some were shaped by the M6 corridor and the distances Cumbrians need to travel – the haulage and ware-housing companies, or the vehicle companies (new cars, used cars, hire cars, 4×4 and Japanese superbike showrooms, new tyres and tyre repairs, car-washing, spare parts).

Fifteen years later many of these companies still survive but the diversity around them is extraordinary. Stephen Armistead had spotted that containers come full from China, and return empty, so he could ship used photocopiers as cheaply to China as he could to the South of England. It’s now an award-winning green business, saving machines from land-fill sites. Nearby, at re-bike unpaid volunteers are dedicating their weeks to training the long-term unemployed in restoring bikes. They are funny, straightforward and modest. The man finances himself with engineering consultancy, and the woman by running a scallop factory in Annan. “We thought we might make enough to pay ourselves, but it didn’t quite work out, so we’re still running it as volunteers four years later.”

Fylde guitars – again hidden in an anonymous cul de sac on the edge of the estate – is, on the outside, a water-stained grey shed; on the inside, a treasure house. Gilwilly has allowed the owner to custom-build a 100,000 pound facility for gently drying rare tropical hard-woods. There is brilliant pink snake-skin wood form South Africa, deep black planks of mahogany, pale five hundred year-old Italian spruce, deep veined rose-woods from Mauritius and Brazil, and logs of ancient redwood, dredged from Oregon rivers. He and his two craftsmen are working in techniques that would have been familiar to Stradivarius three centuries ago, slowly creating over three months, hand-made guitars.

At one end of the estate, 130 people are producing Gregg’s gingerbread men, and Christmas cakes. At the other end, a workforce of the same size is producing a quarter of all the doors in the United Kingdom – over a million doors a year. JELD Wen has just invested over five million pounds in a new production line, custom-built in Spain for their Gilwilly site. The workforce, many of whom have been with company for decades, have gone from working with hammers and nails, into becoming computer and machine operators. They seemed visibly proud of the new machinery, their skills and the company. They are looking at exporting into Europe. And the government and Eden District council has reinforced the Gilwilly estate with another 3 million pounds for new road access.

The challenge now for policy-makers is to grasp what is happening on the ground: to understand how technology allows 130 people in JELD WEN’s to produce over a million doors a year; to see that JELD Wen – which seems to have all the energy and morale of a small private business, is one of a hundred divisions of a US company employing 20,000 people in four continents; while also realising that 92 per cent of the Eden economy lies in local firms employing less than five; that a quarter of Cumbrians are self-employed, and the similar number work from home.

None of this makes our economy any easier to describe to my father. Every week I see a different enterprise – a voluntary FM radio station, a microbrewery, a canoe instructor, a sheep-wool insulator, a chocolate pudding maker, bank-note printers, international governance consultants, renewable energy advisers and dance-trainers for cruise-ships. And I don’t understand how they all survive. Something, however, is working.

Gregg’s and Jeld Wen are expanding their plants in Penrith because they find Cumbrian workers are more productive, and are producing at a consistently higher-quality than their workers elsewhere. Eden farmers have won the awards this week for the best poultry farmer and the best dairy farmer in Britain. Eden – with a population of 55,000 people – currently has only just over 200 people on Jobs seekers allowance, and of those 70 per cent find work within seven weeks. This is one of the very lowest unemployment rates in the whole of Britain. Our challenge, therefore, is not to harp back to a past of giant industry; but instead to understand, or at least not harm, five thousand companies, in a thousand different micro-sectors: offering employment which is strikingly humane, and robust, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.


At the beginning of July, EU Assisted Area status was extended to several areas of north Cumbria for the first time, bringing with it a number of incentives for economic regeneration. In order to improve awareness of these incentives, and focus on opportunities for their local application, Rory Stewart MP will be hosting a seminar on the afternoon of 24th October, on the outskirts of Carlisle. The seminar will outline the benefits of Assisted Area status, provide details of a range of tax and other incentives applicable to commercial property regeneration, and highlight the practical details of some potential local applications. It is also hoped that the seminar will provide an opportunity for networking and the exchange of ideas on how government policy can best support property regeneration in the area.

The seminar is aimed at commercial property developers, investors and advisers, but is open to anyone interested in regeneration in north Cumbria. For further details, and to register for the seminar, please contact Shardia Sahib at Dodd & Co, 01228 530913, Places are unfortunately limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.