Why businesses are setting up in Staveley
- Credit: Archant
From specialist soap to awarding winning ale, Staveley is proving to be a magnet for small businesses and visitors
Vanquished would-be MP Gareth McKeever has swapped soap-box for soap in a life journey on which he found love, a family and a thriving business. He and his wife, Claire, now run the booming skin care company, Pure Lakes, based in Mill Yard, Staveley, just north of Kendal.
Ulsterman Gareth first visited Staveley when he was chosen as prospective Parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives in the constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2008. He, his six brothers and sisters and their parents trod the streets canvassing for votes, attracting the support of then party leader, David Cameron.
Despite their efforts, Gareth was soundly beaten in the May 2010 election by sitting MP Tim Farron, later leader of the Liberal Democrats.
But along the way Gareth had met Claire Naylor, whose family own the Briars Wood Estate at Far Sawrey on the Lancashire shore of Windermere.
After the electoral defeat he returned to life as a stockbroker for an investment bank, while she resumed her career as a dancer and salsa dance teacher in Paris. The couple met again by chance and love blossomed. They married at Lowick Church, between Ulverston and Coniston, in August 2011 and decided to make their home in the Lakes.
They now have a son, five-year-old Angus, and a daughter, Esme, aged three, both going to Hawkshead junior school. ‘When we started a family I decided I no longer wanted to be an MP,’ he said. ‘We had met Ian and Sandra Blackburn, who started Pure Lakes ten years earlier in Grasmere, at the Hawkshead Show and they supplied the bed and breakfast place where my mum and dad stayed, so we had used the products.
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‘We knew that they were approaching the age when they might want to take a step back, so we bought half the business in 2014, and bought the rest in 2016. Sandra and Ian mentored us and are still involved, and we use all the formulae developed by Sandra who was a chemist by training.’
Pure Lakes is a luxury skin care business using natural products in moisturisers, face oils, creams, shower gels, body washes, shampoos and soaps. All packaging is made of bio-polymers, instead of oil-based, which reduces the CO2 emissions and aids recycling.
They supply large hotels like the Langdale Resort and Low Wood Bay with their own customised branding as well as guest houses and shops. They also run their own e-commerce website.
Claire has taken over the production side, while Gareth looks after the selling and marketing. It certainly seems to be working, with a 300 per cent increase in turnover to £250,000 a year.
‘When I was canvassing, I was critical of the low wage, high cost of living in the Lakes. Now I am doing something about it instead of just talking about it,’ said Gareth.
Staff numbers are up from three to ten and everything is made, packaged and distributed from Mill Yard. The couple now live at Far Sawrey and commute across Windermere on the ferry, a far cry from life at an investment bank in the City of London.
They are neighbours at home and until recently at work with Alex Brodie, the former BBC correspondent, who founded and became managing director of Hawkshead Brewery.
Growth led to a move to Mill Yard, Staveley in 2006, four years after Alex started it in his own backyard. Hawkshead Brewery is still growing, although Alex stepped down as managing director last month, being replaced by James Wright, a senior director at Liverpool based Halewood Wines and Spirits, the UK’s largest independent drinks company. They bought Hawkshead last March.
Alex’s decision to retire, aged 67, came after Hawkshead agreed a deal with the global German manufacturer, Krones, to build a state-of-the-art new brewery, part of a £3 million two-site brewery expansion scheme.
Krones will install a turn-key 40 barrel (6,500 litres) rapid-batch brew house, capable of multiple brews per day, on a site in Flookburgh. Hawkshead’s existing brewery at Staveley will continue in production, concentrating on small batch specialist and limited edition beers. It currently produces 7,000 barrels per year.
Alex said: ‘Hawkshead is known for its commitment to cask ale, which is 65% of current output. We will be expanding production of keg, can and bottle, but we will also grow cask. Cask ale is Britain’s craft. We believe in it and, more to the point, so do most beer lovers, especially here in the north.’
He added expansion on this scale would have previously been impossible before he sold the brewery to Halewood International earlier this year.
On retirement, Alex said: ‘When I started Hawkshead 16 years ago, I never expected it to get as big and successful as it has. I have taken it to the limit of my ability and am now handing it over to people who can take it to the next level.’
He added that he will be maintaining the links by being the brewery’s official beer taster!
The brewery and its beer and food hall dominate Mill Yard, a former bobbin mill, now used for a variety of different local industries, shops and other commercial ventures.
But there are thriving businesses outside its boundaries. Over the Main Street is The Beehive, run since 2007 by Graham Livesey, originally from Stockport, and his partner, Fokel de Vries.
It was a general store and confectionary, newsagent and tobacconist, which Graham has expanded, taking over the local post office in 2009. ‘Staveley is such a friendly place, and a great base for all sorts of outdoor activities, like cycling, dog walking and circular walks. It is a real magnet for all sorts of hobbies and interests,’ said Graham, aged 53.
The village’s resilience was tested to the limit by Storm Desmond which split the village in two when the bridge near the confluence of the Gower and the Kent rivers was made unsafe and closed to traffic. For two years passing trade from the nearby A591 was all-but absent, until almost two years on the bridge was completely rebuilt.
‘But we garnered more local support from people who were very sympathetic to our plight,’ said Graham, who has a novel way of repaying the community.
He has financed three collection boxes for his ‘dog-do scheme’ which he empties himself weekly. He also supplies the pick-up bags, converted from the bird seed bags he sells to the numerous ornithologists who live in or visit the village.
He is thinking of selling the business, but says he may write the continuation of the dog-do scheme into any sale contract.
‘A clean, litter-free village is good for business,’ added Graham, himself the owner of three whippets he is famed for walking through the village.
With such enterprise and community spirit, Staveley’s success is sure to remain more than skin deep.