Community scheme takes the lead in the Yorkshire Dales

January 6, 2020

The Yorkshire Dales LEADER Programme has distributed £2.75 million for rural projects benefiting the area and its communities.

Administered by Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, Yorkshire Dales LEADER is a community-led rural development programme which aims to improve the quality of life and prosperity in rural communities through locally driven rural development initiatives and projects.

The LEADER approach, an important part of the European Union’s Rural Development policy, is aimed at encouraging capacity building (developing the ability of local people to participate in the future development of their area) and using local initiative to improve the development potential of rural areas.

Recently, the programme’s Executive took a tour around some of the projects the scheme had funded, learning how local businesses had diversified and expanded.

The Home Farmer, Aysgarth

The group first visited Home Farm in Aysgarth, discovering how Ben Spence and his family had accessed more than £130,000 to move away from a traditional method of milk production to a self-contained system.

Home Farm has had three grants to improve farm welfare, produce raw milk cheese and build an innovative and fully mobile milk vending machine – the first of its type in the country.

Ben took the party around the new shed Home Farm has installed, its welfare improvements and its new cheese making facility.

The group then visited the Home Farm mobile vending machine at the Wensleydale Creamery.

You can read about the project here.

Keasden Head Farm

The next stop was Keadsen Head Farm and a chat with award winning farmer Shelia Mason.

She is an innovator when it comes to welcoming groups onto her farm to make the connection between farming and the wider environment.

Thanks to LEADER she has created a new insulated barn which whilst being a comfortable place for groups to meet, also doubles up as a classroom.

You can read more about Sheila here.

Shelia welcomes groups from all over the area to experience the farm and enjoy the mental wellbeing effects of being outside. Visitors can wash cows and touch and feel the animals as well as walking up an accessible trail onto the moors to see vast amounts of wildlife.

Participants also work together to plant trees before sitting down together round a table in the new barn and having a meal.

The Courtyard Dairy

Next up was the Courtyard Dairy cheese experience near Settle.

Andy Swinscoe moved to the Dales after working in fine foods. He bought the former falconry centre site, and repurposed it into a visitor centre, café and cheese maturing facility, thanks to LEADER funding, and it is now one of the most popular visitor spots in the southern dales.

The Courtyard Dairy only sell farm produced cheese and have a museum, cafe and kitchen which allows people to experience cheese pressing.

They also have ambitions to open this up to start ups as a mini incubation facility. Growing rapidly, it now employs 21 people.

You can read more here.

Whittaker’s Gin New Whisky Distillery

After lunch, the group made the journey to Whittaker’s Gin at Dacre Banks in Nidderdale to see how in four years Tony and Jane Whitaker have launched and grown this local gin business.

Creating high quality product, a £150,000 LEADER grant has helped them expand and they are now starting to produce whiskey.

Read more here.

Neil Pickard, Vice Chair of the LEADER Executive, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the trip out to see the six projects that had been funded by LEADER grants.

“The visit to the Cheese Experience at Austwick highlighted to me how the input of a modest amount of grant money increased considerably the turnover of the business such that additional taxes and national insurance payments by the business repaid the public money within an 18 month timeframe.

“I was also impressed by the enthusiasm of Sheila Mason at Keasden Head and how the LEADER contribution had improved the facilities for more disadvantaged groups to benefit from seeing the wildlife and flora on her farm.

“The business acumen of the Spence family at Aysgarth was another highlight for me and their vision demonstrated how family farmers could add value to their milk.”

Rima Berry, LEADER programme co-ordinator added: “It was a real treat to show the Local Action Group behind the scenes of some of the businesses they granted LEADER funding to.

“It is a humbling experience to see how much difference a small amount of funding makes in supporting business growth and rural jobs for the future.

“The Yorkshire Dales has some inspiring and entrepreneurial independent businesses and we wish them well long into the future.”