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Community spirit is alive and well and living in Denby Dale

PUBLISHED: 09:47 18 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:47 18 August 2014

Denby Dale sits in the shadow of an architecturally stunning viaduct

Denby Dale sits in the shadow of an architecturally stunning viaduct

Joan Russell Photography

When Kirklees Council announced that seven rural libraries would have to be run by volunteers to secure their long-term survival, some communities reacted with anger. But not Denby Dale.

Animal antics set in stone around the West Yorkshire village of Denby DaleAnimal antics set in stone around the West Yorkshire village of Denby Dale

The proactive, resolutely positive people who make this West Yorkshire village tick saw an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Not only would they take over the running of their library, they’d build a new one; a bigger, brighter, better community hub that the whole village could be proud of.

The rooftops of Denby DaleThe rooftops of Denby Dale

‘The library wasn’t going to close, but our budget meant things had to change,’ said Carol Stump, Kirklees’ chief librarian. ‘Some communities are not quite ready yet to make the change, but the people in Denby Dale immediately saw the potential. Their project is very much the pilot, providing a template for others and showing how it’s not just about creating a new library, but a whole new community hub. We’ll support them with training, book stock and professional librarian support, but this is very much their project. Denby Dale is leading the way.’

Volunteer support group workers Maureen Preston and John Tarrant with Peter Belsey, vice-chairman of Denby Dale Community Project, trustee Garry Wilkinson and library customer services officers Susan Hoskin and Alma BarracloughVolunteer support group workers Maureen Preston and John Tarrant with Peter Belsey, vice-chairman of Denby Dale Community Project, trustee Garry Wilkinson and library customer services officers Susan Hoskin and Alma Barraclough

Denby Dale Community Project (DDCP), led by Councillor Jim Dodds, plans to demolish the current library – little more than a prettied-up cabin in Wakefield Road – and build a new £250,000 community hub. The hard-working group of volunteers has made incredible strides in a relatively short time, securing practical support from Kirklees Council, rallying a strong band of volunteers to help run the library, obtaining planning permission and kickstarting a fundraising campaign.

Estate agent Yorkshire’s Finest, which has an office in the village, has donated £6,000 to the library project, raising the money via a charity ball, while Kirklees Council has agreed to hand over £100,000 towards construction costs as well as the existing land and library building.

All in all, DDCP has already secured pledges of more than £150,000 – putting them well over the halfway mark.

Louise Holmes, director of Yummy Yorkshire with one of her talented ice cream makersLouise Holmes, director of Yummy Yorkshire with one of her talented ice cream makers

The new community library, designed for free by local architect Alyson Ronan, will be a two-storey building which will not only house a healthy supply of books but also The Denby Dale Centre, Kirkwood Hospice and an internet café.

‘Denby Dale is unusual in its level of community spirit and willingness to get involved,’ said Carol. ‘They have embraced this opportunity from day one. I’m thrilled with how they’ve reacted.’

This can-do spirit is also evident at Denby Dale artisan ice cream company Yummy Yorkshire, where Louise and Jeremy Holmes have transformed their family farm into a popular tourist destination in just seven short years.

Jeremy is a third generation farmer, but Louise was in big business, travelling up to 1,000 miles a week and commuting three hours a day, before swapping it all for life on the farm after their children, Oliver and Charlotte, came along.

She started off helping out with some of the paperwork – she loves a good spreadsheet – then, after Jeremy bought a small ice cream machine to make better use of the farm’s excess cream, she started taking her first tentative steps in the artisan food market.

‘We knew from the start that we wanted to be artisan producers, experimenting with small batches and not doing any brightly coloured products with predictable flavours,’ she explained.

‘Liquorice is probably the flavour most associated with us but we’re innovating all the time. I don’t do a normal shop anymore because I’m always scouring other people’s trolleys looking for new flavour combinations. And not just sweet things either.

‘We like to be adventurous. I’d hate it if a customer came in and had tried everything on our menu. I want them to be surprised and intrigued by everything we do.’

Louise and Jeremy knew they were on to a winner when people started knocking on their front door in search of ice cream. So they built their own ice cream parlour, expanded it to 34 covers two years ago and have just had new plans drawn up to extend it further to include even more tables and open views of the ice cream making process.

‘We’re very proud of how we make our ice cream,’ said Louise. ‘The process is still artisan, it’s just that the machines have got bigger and we’re now producing more than 35,000 litres a year.’

She recently proved she’s the cream of the crop (pun very much intended) by scooping the title of Woman in Tourism of the Year at the Network She Foundation Awards, aimed at rewarding inspiring business women across Yorkshire and the North West.

‘As a working mum I’m always beating myself up about something,’ said Louise. ‘This award makes me feel I’m getting something right. And it feels great to be seen as a tourist destination.’

Although Yummy Yorkshire is also still very much a working farm and if visitors are disappointed that they can’t use the play barn in February, there’s a very practical reason – there are cows in it.

‘We don’t produce our ice cream out of thin air,’ she said. ‘It’s the cream that comes from our cows that makes it so special.’

And it’s that very same cool ice cream combined with the warm welcome extended by Louise, Jeremy and their 15-strong team that has attracted upwards of 49,000 visitors to their Denby Dale farm so far this year.

‘I’d like to think that a good number of our visitors stay awhile in the district after having an ice cream with us and make the most of this wonderful place,’ said Louise. ‘This is a very supportive area. We might be a collection of disparate towns and villages but we’re still very much a community.’

The Denby Dale district

The Denby Dale district is made up of a collection of villages and has a population of around 18,000.

Denby Dale – widely known as The Pie Village because if its penchant for producing enormous celebratory pies – is the largest settlement in the area with an array of shops, pubs and restaurants, all set in the shadow of a hugely impressive (and just plain huge) viaduct.

Among the other notable villages in this diverse yet tightknit district are Emley, which enjoys the benefits of a large Millennium Green and a good supply of local shops, all in the not insubstantial shadow of 330.4m (that’s 1,084ft in old money) Emley Moor Mast; the conservation area of Kirkburton, formed mainly of groups of 19th century terraced cottages and shops in a wooded valley; Shelley, an attractive village with more amenities than most small towns; and the wonderfully-named Thunderbridge, which is primarily made up of 18th century cottages in a lovely conservation area setting.

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