How Staveley became a popular centre for small innovative businesses
PUBLISHED: 08:47 26 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:54 26 October 2020
Staveley Mill Yard is home to 40 businesses providing 400 jobs.
David Brockbank’s earliest memory of Staveley Mill Yard was as a toddler playing in the sawdust with his younger brother and sister. Now he is landlord of 40 businesses providing 400 jobs on the site which formerly provided bobbins and reels for the Lancashire cotton industry.
Innovative and creative budding entrepreneurs queue up to become tenants of the four-acre site.
‘The whole philosophy of this development is to provide well-paid, non-tourist jobs in the Lake District, which youngsters can aspire to,’ says David, who is now 65 years old. ‘We want to provide opportunities for well-paid employment in the community. This is important for two reasons.
‘First, it keeps the youngsters living in the Lake District working in domestic businesses and not having to move away to find jobs. Second, they can afford the house prices.
‘And it is vital that we keep making things. Our success has been built on creating spaces that businesses actually want and not plastic pre-made units. Normally businesses have to move into premises and then spend their money converting them. We always say the only cost businesses fact is £60 to have their phone connected and they’ll be up and running. People can invest their money in their business, and not the premises.
‘I love that passion my tenants have for their businesses. I am so honoured so many businesses want their future here,’ says David, who keeps a watchful eye on the development from a flat that overlooks the yard.
It has been a hub of local industry since the 1600s when it was the site of a woollen fulling mill. In the 1800s it became a bobbin mill and David still has a collection of every example of reel that was made there.
David’s grandfather Edwin started work as an office boy and worked his way to be manager then partner in the yard.
David’s father Roger then took over when he returned from the war. David himself gained a degree in economics and qualified as a chartered accountant before taking the reins of the business in 1979. By then the mill had switched to making handles for all manner of tools, brooms, shovels, hammers and more, 5,000 types in all.
‘I had 50 employees when I took over, and unfortunately we paid low wages. The writing was on the wall, especially when Maggie Thatcher closed all the mines, which we supplied,’ says David ruefully.
‘Then mechanical diggers came along. We were effectively killed off by JCB. I switched production abroad, but that left me with a four-acre site in the middle of the village and wondering what to do with it,’ he says.
It was then he came up with his innovative plan, using his employees to redevelop the site. ‘From the off, I never wanted tourist or retail development, I wanted people who keep making things.’
His first customer was clay lamp-maker Steve Ainsworth who still lives in the village. David is reluctant to highlight any particular tenants, but the list is impressive.
Staveley Mill Yard is famous to some as the home of Wilf’s Café, a mecca for cyclists, walkers and other visitors, backing on to the weir of the River Kent which once propelled the mill. For others it is home to the UK’s biggest bike shop, Wheelbase. Hawkshead Brewery dominates another end of the yard.
Outdoor clothing and running shoe-makers Inov-8 have their UK headquarters in the yard. Joiners, Fallowfields produce domestic and retail fittings and have a successful line in shepherd’s huts. High class furniture is produced by Waters and Acland. Artisan bakers, More, make bread and Claire and Gareth McKeever at Lakes Skin Care make soap.
David’s vision has become reality, providing 400 jobs in a village with a total population of not much more than 1,000 people.
David is particularly pleased that neither Foot and Mouth disease, nor the 2008 recession damaged Staveley’s economy. Even the coronavirus has led to just one business going under.
But his plans don’t end with the mill yard. ‘I want to make sure we keep Staveley as a working village,’ he said. ‘We have a full school and keep a post office and chemist. We are fighting to keep the old people’s home.
‘But the biggest issue is when we attract people here on higher wages, they often go to live in Kendal, just four miles down the road, where they can get bigger properties for the same money. There is a huge housing need for middle income families.’
This motivated him to formulate a plan for one of Staveley’s oldest green spaces, known as the Big Meadow, opposite the headquarters of Cumbria Tourism in Windermere Road.
His ideas include constructing new homes, moving the recreation field onto the Big Meadow to allow the cricket club to go back by the river, a playground, space for allotments, an all-weather pitch and an area for walking dogs. There could also be a car park close to the village hall to alleviate congestion, and the area of the meadow that regularly floods turned into a small lake.
When he presented the idea to the parish council, it wasn’t universally welcomed, with some reluctant to lose an important open green space.
He told the parish council: ‘I purchased the Big Meadow to give it to the village, for the benefit of everyone who lives, works, and visits our dynamic and thriving community.
‘We have made some initial suggestions, and are asking everyone to contribute their ideas in order to come up with a scheme which the whole village believes will help secure the future of Staveley as a vibrant and dynamic community.’
Then the coronavirus pandemic intervened and the plan is on hold.
‘At the end of the day it is up to the community,’ he said. ‘The village has issues with parking, safety, dog mess on footpaths and on sports facilities, and housing. But if it is not wanted then I won’t do it.’