Campaigning Coniston - There’s a fighting spirit in this Lakeland town

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 September 2019

Coniston. Coniston Cricket Club's Nathan Atkinson with the magnificent backdrop of Yewdale Crag towering over the pitch

Coniston. Coniston Cricket Club's Nathan Atkinson with the magnificent backdrop of Yewdale Crag towering over the pitch

Milton Haworth

The fighting spririt is alive and well and getting things done in this pretty Lakeland village.

Coniston Criket Club's new pavillionConiston Criket Club's new pavillion

There's no doubting the community spirit in Coniston. With barely 1,000 residents it manages to provide facilities for locals other communities have long since lost, and to draw visitors from all over the world.

They are attracted by the links to Victorian thinker John Ruskin, author Arthur Ransome and father and son speed kings Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell. There's Coniston Water for sailors, swimmers and those who want to cruise in a steam-driven gondola. There are endless walks, round the lake, up Coniston Old Man or to beauty spots like Tarn Hows. There is a brewery, cafes, post office, thriving shops and increasing interest in the copper mines which once underpinned the local economy. But it is a commitment to self-reliance and defying the march of modern times which give the key to Coniston's success.

Typical is the revival of the local cricket club. With its stunning ground in the shadows of Yewdale Craggs, it has beauty on its side. More than 100 years since it was founded, however, the pavilion had become an embarrassment, falling down and with a leaking roof.

Grizedale Arts, a contemporary arts residency and commissioning agency, now based in Coniston Institute, attracted worldwide attention with a competition to design a new pavilion. After several years of planning battles, the club decided to go with a conventional design, raising £40,000 through grants. Electricians, plumbers, joiners and painters on the squad pitched in and it was finished two weeks before this season opened.

Anne Hall in the Coniston Tourist Information CentreAnne Hall in the Coniston Tourist Information Centre

Key to the money raising was the locally-based Rawdon Smith Trust, set up in 1964 when parish councillors were clever enough to buy the bed of the lake and invest revenues in the villages around its rim.

Now the cricket club is booming. 'It has been transformed,' said president, groundsman and umpire Nigel Dixon.

Club captain, secretary, treasurer and opening bowler Nathan Atkinson, is particularly pleased with the All Stars scheme for five-to-eight year olds who now swarm down to the ground on Friday night. Two men's team grace the Westmorland League and there are the beginnings of a women's team.

Helen Glaister, marketing manager of the Ruskin Museaum in Consiton with copper bombs outside the MuseumHelen Glaister, marketing manager of the Ruskin Museaum in Consiton with copper bombs outside the Museum

'It's awesome,' he says. 'We never thought it would happen but now we have never had so many people using the club. Takings over the bar are well up too,' he added.

With its last match of the season on September 14. Coniston Cricket Club is looking forward to a rosy future.

And a cricket ball's throw from the ground is the Ruskin Museum and Coniston Institute, now jointly run by a board of trustees.

They were both set up by John Ruskin and his acolytes, the Institute being Ruskin's pet project to bring education to the labourers at Coniston Copper Mines and other workers. By the end of the last century it had become run down and largely disused. Ten years ago this year Grizedale Arts moved from Rusland Valley, where it set up a theatre and sculpture park, to Lawson Park high above Coniston Water.

Grizedale Arts Director Adam Sutherland in the reading room in The InstituteGrizedale Arts Director Adam Sutherland in the reading room in The Institute

Adam Sutherland , the director for the last 20 years, said: 'The Institute asked us to help them bring it back to life. We recruited volunteer groups to help restore it room by room, starting with the kitchens.

'It is now totally self-sufficient, with an honesty shop selling creations that people make at home, with produce from gardening, cooking and home crafts. People bring in their excess jam, for example, register it, and people who buy the produce put money in an honesty box with the item's code. At the end of the month, 75% is returned to the maker and 25% goes to the upkeep of the Institute.'

Also in the complex is a vintage shop, which is run, from April until the end of September, by a group of antique traders from across the Lake District. Organiser Dianne Evans-Taylor, an Ulverston-based upholsterer, said: 'We hire the hall and run it as a community-led enterprise, with lots of local people dropping in.' Chair of the museum and Institute charity trust is Anne Hall MBE, who is a parish and district councillor. She also is one of 20 volunteers who run the Tourist Information Centre, around the corner in Ruskin Avenue. 'We took it over from the Lake District National Park Authority in 2006 who wanted to close it,' she said. 'Because we are not commercial, we like to give people value for their money on their holiday by giving them the benefit of local knowledge,' she said. Going by the entries in the visitor book, it certainly works with tourists from Australia to Mexico singing its praises. And you can't help feeling that Ruskin, whose birth 200 years ago this year is being celebrated across the world, would have approved of the enduring spirit of self-reliance.

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