Kendal - a place to work, visit, invest and live in
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 November 2019
Things are looking good for the Lakeland destination
November normally is quiet in tourism areas, but there is not a room to be had in Kendal and its surrounding areas, such is the demand for the town's annual Mountain Festival.
Up to 18,000 lovers of the outdoors are expected for the four-day event - from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th. The festival marks its 40th anniversary next year. For its first 25 years it was known as Kendal Mountain Film Festival, but has grown to encompass literature, performance, speeches and art.
'We are trying to inspire people to use the outdoors and cherish it and understand it,' said festival director Clive Allen.'
Or as the promotional blurb puts it: 'We bring thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from across the globe together to share and celebrate the best stories from the world of adventure: Stories of human endurance, breathtaking environments and soul-stirring journeys. We live for adventure.'
The event is estimated to add about £3 million to the local economy through food, drink and accommodation.
'To find accommodation in central Kendal you have to book early, so the ripple effect spreads beyond the town, as far as Windermere and Coniston,' said Mr Allen.
Around half of the visitors come from the North West, with the other half coming from all over the UK. Some of the speakers even come from abroad.
The Mountain Festival team drum up country-wide interest with a tour of 30 venues from Inverness to Brighton from February to June.
The two patrons are veteran mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington and free rock-climber Leo Houlding. Mr Houlding, who lives in Staveley, will miss the event this year as he is climbing Roraima, in Venezuela, the inspiration for Arthur Conan's Doyle's novel The Lost World.
The festival hopes to link up with him for a live interview by Sir Chris, if the technology works.
Outdoor clothing companies such as Columbia, Patagonia, North Face, Low Alpine and Berghaus clamber to sponsor the festival, so it has no need for support from the public purse, even though it has free events for 1500 school children.
There is also a tie-up this year with Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Ruskin Institute, both parts of Lancaster University. The former includes the launch of lecturer Charlie Gere's book 'I Hate the Lake District', already causing waves. The latter is a celebration of the bi-centenary of Ruskin's birth.
Another popular event is the Adidas 10k trial run which starts and finishes in the town centre on the Saturday morning, bringing a real party feel to the shopping centre.
The festival struggles to find enough venues for all its activities, with the main ones being South Lakes Leisure centre, which hosts another free family event, the Town Hall, the Shakespeare Centre and Kendal Brewery Arts Centre, which is the hub and for one weekend becomes a giant mountain wood cabin.
Kendal's popular arts centre, The Brewery, is undergoing an expansion and redevelopment.
'It has always been a vibrant arts centre, but as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2022, we are working with a new team to renew that civic role in tandem with the community,' says new chief executive officer, Miriam Randall.
As an ex-bass player with bands in Manchester who then worked in the music industry, the music programme is high on her agenda.
'We are working with Band on the Wall from Manchester to bring the world to Kendal with big music gigs and performance theatre,' Miriam says. 'We also plan to upgrade the cinema, develop the festivals which happen here, and expand our education and learning, which are at the heart of what we do.'
She has spent 25 years as an arts professional in London, Brighton and most recently Bristol where she was executive director of Watershed, the city's centre for cultural cinema, and digital creativity.
Cinemas were first introduced at the Brewery 20 years ago, with two screens. Next year it is planned to spend a million pounds refreshing the offering with a third screen, new seats, sound and projectors, all digitally enhanced.
'We will then be able to offer better choices of film, new releases and a broader range,' says Miriam. It will also free up the theatre, currently used as a third cinema, for more live performances.
She says she came to Kendal because of the Brewery's reputation but adds: 'It's ready for a new phase of being a place that is buzzing with live music, live performance, and expanded cinema and a meeting place for just a coffee or somewhere to do business.
'This part of the world has the potential to be a hotspot of creativity and digital creative enterprises and I hope the Brewery can help that.'
Working with like-minded organisations in the town is key to the Brewery's success and that's why she has joined the board of Kendal Futures, a public/private partnership of the which has embarked on a consultation exercise to develop a mandate to make it 'the best market town in the UK to work, visit, invest and live in'.
'We want to make sure that Kendal continues to have a thriving arts and cultural scene, and that what we do at the Brewery works in tandem with the rest of the local community,' Miriam adds. 'As Kendal grows, the Brewery will grow alongside it, and together we can make Kendal and even more amazing place to live and work.'
If pubs and restaurants are any guide to the vibrancy of a local economy, then Kendal has had an exceptional year, with millions being spent revitalising bars.
The New Inn, The Shakespeare Inn, the Mason's Yard 24 (formerly Mason's Arms), New Union and others have all be refurbished, reopened and rejuvenated as independents.
Perhaps the most striking has been the transformation of Ye Olde Fleece Inn, whose timber frames in the middle of the high street, opposite the Town Hall make it one of the most recognisable buildings in the town. It is also probably the oldest inn, thought up until now to be built in 1654. But it might be older still, with new joint owner Josh Macaulay finding a panel dated 1595 which is awaiting verification.
Dr Macaulay is an unusual starter in the hospitality industry. He was, and still is occasionally, an Accident and Emergency doctor. He and partner Chris Moss, an anaesthetist, met at a hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
They became frustrated at the number of people needing social care who couldn't get it, so came to Kendal to set up Westmorland Home Care two-and-a-half years ago. It is now the biggest in South Lakeland with 200 clients and 125 staff.
They are starting their second care business in Poulton-le-Fylde. Their Kendal office was next to Ye Olde Fleece Inn and they commented every day on how sad it was that it had declined.
Under several owners it had become derelict and was closed for two years before they decided to would take on its renovation.
'It was a beautiful heritage building and it was criminal that it was being left to fall down. We kept saying someone needs to sort it out. Finally we decided it would have to be us,' says Silverdale-born Josh.
Despite its small frontage the building hid a labyrinth of treasures. A £1 million investment has created a bar, a restaurant, new kitchens, a meeting room, a pop-up cinema, and a three-bedroom self-catering cottage to the rear.
They aim to provide quality fine dining, and they have hired James Hardy as head chef, a student of Kendal College's catering course who came from The Plough in Lupton, via Monaco-based yachts.
After six months, the reborn Ye Olde Fleece Inn has 28 staff. 'It has been great to re-energise the High Street and to have been able to create jobs for the local economy,' says Josh.
'Kendal is a great town with so much to offer. Let's make the best of it.'