Richmond -and its neighbouring village Hudswell

It's all about the community in Richmond – and slightly beyond, as Penny Wainwright discovers

When Richmond was voted Town of the Year by a respected group of academics and urban planners last year, it wasn’t just its spectacular setting above the River Swale that convinced the judges, or its Norman castle, Georgian Theatre and picturesque cobbled marketplace. They were also impressed by the very strong sense of community.

You’ve only got to look at the remarkable story of the pub in the village of Hudswell on the fringes of Richmond to see this in action. When the George and Dragon closed for business, residents assumed someone would buy it, but there were no takers. ‘I had read about a village that had bought its own pub,’ said Paul Cullen, who chairs the company that eventually did just that with Hudswell’s local. ‘Then after a quiz night at the village hall, Martin Booth, who’s now secretary, said he’d be prepared to give it a go. He had experience in regeneration schemes through his work.

‘We called a public meeting and got approval from the village either to make a bid to buy the pub or to lease it.’  Where on earth could they find �200,000? The figure wasn’t quite as daunting when you broke it down, said Paul. ‘The electoral roll was 230 to 240, so at �1,000 each, it didn’t look so bad.’

Athough about 100 people bought shares. The company was set up so that no one could profit by selling their stake, but shareholders would receive a dividend from rent. A mixture of loans and grants, including �50,000 from the Rural Access to Opportunities Fund, made up the balance. You would expect a group taking such a brave step might have had some relevant experience but the committee members came from all walks of life. Paul had been a local district councillor. ‘Then we’ve a former taxi operator, an Esso engineer, people who’ve worked in the health service, in business studies and IT. There’s no boss,’ added Paul.

At the George and Dragon, Margaret Stubbs, who with her daughter Jackie were unanimously chosen by the committee to be the first tenants, would modestly claim that Jackie was the boss. ‘She’s been the driving force,’ said Margaret. ‘She’s always been in catering and hospitality. I just came along to help.’ But Margaret is at home behind the bar too, having worked part-time in her own local for 20 years.  

Since the pub reopened in June, it’s been non-stop: local MP William Hague pulled one of the first pints (he’s also a shareholder), Ade Edmondson has visited for a new ITV series called The Dales, and the BBC were due the day after Yorkshire Life were there. ‘The business has exceeded expectations,’ said Margaret, though it’s a wonder they have time to run it, given all the media clogging up the place.

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While food and drink are mainly local – bitters from Aldbrough St John microbrewery and Black Sheep from Masham – and the food aims to be ‘good British pub grub’, banana and coconut milk also feature on the menu, thanks to head chef Elenoa who is Fijian. Fresh vegetables come straight from allotments in the pub’s garden.

There are plans for six en-suite letting rooms. ‘But we need to raise funds and now grants for community investments have stopped. They would secure the future,’ said Margaret.

‘The shop should be opened by the back end of the year. We’ll start with the basics and there won’t be any waste because anything not sold can be used in the restaurant.’ Meanwhile the library is up and running. ‘Library’ might be an over-statement for the single bookcase provided by North Yorkshire County Council, but there’s an excellent choice and no red tape: borrowers just sign in a book at the bar and, so far, people have been good about returning them.

With its lovely setting overlooking the Swale – the Coast-to-Coast route is on the opposite bank and 300 steps up to the pub would be a doddle for walkers tackling 200 miles – Jackie intends to market the business as Pub with a View. ‘I want to put Hudswell on the map.’

It’s already on the map in the literal sense, but a few more signs from Richmond would help people find it.  Back in town, the ancient castle walls were reverberating to the sound of rock. Castle Calling was created last year in response to young people complaining that there wasn’t enough to do. At �7 a ticket to hear 26 bands – headline group was Futureheads this year – it’s a bargain. And the no alcohol, smoking or drugs rule is reassuring to parents.

Rock music from the castle wafts into the marketplace, an unlikely setting for a boxing ring where youngsters were sparring to publicise their club, JABS (Joint Amateur Boxing Scheme), another activity prompted by claims of boredom. Boxing was the overwhelming choice among young people surveyed, explained Police Community Support Officer Judith Allan.

Given the strong thread of community here, it was little surprise to discover that Judith had also attended a Fijian Festival at Hudswell’s pub. ‘I was in uniform and was joining in some hula dancing when someone came and put a grass skirt round me. I’m just hoping my bosses won’t see the photos!’

Volunteers are the backbone of Richmond – running theatre, museums, clubs and festivals. It’s easy to see why it won Town of the Year. As Town Manager, Colin Grant said on accepting the award: ‘We believe it’s a beautiful town and a wonderful place to live – and our secret is now out!’

Richmondshire Local History Museum. Tucked away in a courtyard off Ryders Wynd near the marketplace, you can find a set from the James Herriot TV series All Creatures Great and Small, a Victorian grocer’s shop reconstruction where John Fenwick, founder of the department stores, began his career, and displays of local industry, transport and bygones.

Green Howards Museum tells the story of this 300-year-old Yorkshire regiment, housed in the former Holy Trinity Church, which was once part of the castle’s outer bailey, later to enjoy a chequered history as a court, town hall, school, beer cellar and prison.

Richmond Live. The first weekend in August sees rock and pop lovers homing in on The Batts, a swathe of grassland by the river, where bands appealing to a more adult audience than Castle Calling strut their stuff. Local music teacher Michael Jinks found himself organising it, with a posse of enthusiastic volunteers, when at a local council meeting he rashly bemoaned the lack of music locally and was promptly offered a venue. The festival has now been going for 13 years.

Richmond Walking and Book Festival September 24th – October 3rd. The book and walking festivals run side by side, a perfect combination for thousands attracted by a wholesome holiday with some culture thrown in. Choose from 35 guided walks through beautiful Swaledale and Wensleydale, woodland strolls or short walks around the town and castle. Events are held all over the town.

Among speakers this year are Eric Robson (a familiar voice on Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time), Max Hastings and comedy writer David Nobbs.

Getting there: Richmond is the gateway to Swaledale, four miles from the A1/A1M and A66 at Scotch Corner.

What to do: The Theatre Royal is a Georgian gem, with its faithfully reproduced pale-blue painted auditorium. It  is the oldest working theatre in its original form in the country. Up-to-date facilities – two bars, toilets and disabled access – are provided in a modern extension. For the first time, the theatre has commissioned its own professional pantomime. Watch out for Mother Goose in December.

Where to park: There’s up to two hours free on-street parking (disc available free from local shops) in and around the marketplace, no return within an hour.

The Station: Don’t expect to catch a train here; the last one left 40 years ago. What you can expect is a meal or drink, two-screen cinema, changing art exhibitions, a microbrewery and some top quality local produce – all the result of a terrific community effort which attracted �2.7 million worth of grants to make it happen.

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