The story behind the Ambleside Online website
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 July 2016
Ambleside's popularity brings problems, but the town remains a lovely place to live, work and visit
You’ll find five kinds of people in Ambleside: those born there, those who work in tourism, those who came to the town to retire, students and tourists. Paul Renouf has met them all in the 40-plus years he’s been living there.
He came to Ambleside with his wife Jane in the early 1970s and produced the town’s first tourism website almost 20 years ago after running a guest house, launching a photography business and working at the Heaton Cooper gallery in Grasmere. ‘I’ve been accepted by most people now,’ he said. ‘I’m a kind of honorary local now.
‘I developed Ambleside Online in 1997 and at that time no-one had a local website. I decided to make one and write about the community I love very much.’ He tried to involve local businesses.
‘I wrote to more than 600 in the LA22 postcode area and received three replies. It seemed like I’d wasted my time but a friend told me he thought I was just ahead of my time and it gradually built up.’
The site today blends local knowledge with humour and is a welcome antidote to the many dry tourism sites on the internet. It reflects Paul’s passion for the town and his concern for its future. ‘Housing for young people is a problem which particularly affects the Lake District,’ he said.
‘The people who can afford to buy houses in these beautiful places tend to be older people from out of town who have retired or inherited money. Some of those people are mainstays of the community but an ageing population does have an effect. For instance, the numbers of children on school rolls have fallen dramatically.
‘The other problem is second homes,’ he added. ‘They are a liability to the viability of communities. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of them or make them more difficult to buy because every MP has got one.
‘Communities are shrinking and outlying communities are dead most of the year and in my view every move made to correct the situation is 30 years too late.
‘Having said all that, I make money out of advertising people’s second homes for holiday lets, so although I recognise the problem I’m benefiting from it.’
The number of pupils on the roll at Ambleside Primary School has almost halved since the turn of the century – down from nearly 200 to 102 today. Headteacher Sarah Carrick said: ‘The numbers of young people in Ambleside have dwindled in the last few years and the numbers of children at the school have gone progressively down.’ Sarah trained to be a teacher in Ambleside before working in a school in Barrow. She returned to Ambleside two years ago to take up her first headship.
‘A small school has its challenges but there are advantages - there is a lovely family atmosphere,’ she said.
‘Numbers seem to have steadied in the last couple of years and we actually have an increase this year in the numbers coming into reception.’
Paul Renouf’s wife, Jane, is keeping an eye on changes in the town, too. She’s the chair of the Ambleside Oral History Group which began 40 years ago and is helping to keep the history of Ambleside alive.
The group’s first interviewee, in 1976, was a 99-year-old woman who grew up in Ambleside and recalled her childhood in the 1870s and 80s and of servant life in the 1890s.
The archive, which is housed at Ambleside library, is regularly updated with new interviews which highlight the issues important to the people of Ambleside today.