The future of Skipton as a destination town
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 January 2019
Joan Russell Photography
How do you make a great town even greater? Skipton thinks it has the answer
Great towns don’t just come out of nowhere. They don’t fall out of a box like flat-pack furniture in need of an Allen key. Instead, they are painstakingly crafted over time, the work of many hands, each honing and developing a particular area until the whole is greater than the sum of its many and varied parts.
Skipton in North Yorkshire is a case in point. This great town, listed as one of the Sunday Times best places to live in 2018, has won numerous plaudits and accolades over the years as the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
Local residents and businesses haven’t just sat back and waited for good things to happen, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and set about making their town the best it can be.
Among the many ‘good things’ they’ve created are the annual Skipton Waterway Festival, which brings life, colour and delightful chaos to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal over the May Bank Holiday weekend; Sheep Day, which celebrates its heritage as a recognised ‘Sheep Town’ (alongside Masham in North Yorkshire) with all sorts of baa-rilliant ovine-related fun; Skipton International Puppet Festival, a biennial celebration (back on October 4th-6th this year) that attracts performers and fans from across the world; and Skipton Market, named Best Small Outdoor Market in last year’s Great British Market Awards and, at the time of going to press, still in the running for this year’s prestigious Britain’s Favourite Market title.
Many of the town’s key events and attributes have been funded or supported by Skipton BID (Business Improvement District), which has been working hard to keep spirits up and crime low for the last 10 years, investing £1.5million in everything from CCTV and Skipton in Bloom to town ambassadors and the big Christmas lights switch-on.
Local people are voting this month on whether to give the BID team another five-year term that could result in a further £800,000 investment in Skipton’s future. If approved, its three key objectives will be to maintain and enhance the town’s position as a tourist destination through the Visit Skipton brand; provide a toolbox of services for businesses, including training, data and security; and invest in further improvements in the general attractiveness and cleanliness of the area.
The BID will also look at making Sheep Day into a week-long festival to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Flock to Skipton in 2010, under the catchy banner: Flock Back to Skipton.
‘We add a huge amount to the vitality of the town but the benefits are not always obvious,’ said BID manager Geraldine Thompson. ‘By helping to make it an attractive place to visit, we’re not just bringing in tourists to spend money on gifts, food and accommodation, we’re encouraging people to move here to live, to work, to invest and to create jobs – all of which helps to protect our future economy.’
The town’s biggest employer, Skipton Building Society, is supporting the BID’s five-year plan along with the town council, Skipton Chamber of Trade & Commerce and numerous businesses and festivals.
‘A thriving town is of huge benefit to our employees and to our business in general,’ said SBS chief executive David Cutter. ‘The combined investment of all levy payers (who help fund the BID) is vital to Skipton and makes a real difference.’
Other towns and cities across Yorkshire have set up, or are in the process of setting up, their own BID schemes, but Skipton was one of the first when it launched in 2009, funded by a levy on businesses in the area based on their rateable values and the sector they trade in.
Andrew Mear, a local landlord, a founder member of the BID and its current chairman, likens the scheme to crowdfunding: ‘The term BID can seem a bit like jargon, but basically it’s like we are crowdfunding events and projects that support Skipton.
‘People have to see the bigger picture. It’s easy to take the view that the levy could usefully remain in the pocket of your business and, anyway, what can you do with, say, £100? But imagine what a difference five hundred times £100 could make if spent in a way to benefit the whole town.’
One of the BID’s most high-profile supporters is Sebastian Fattorini, whose family has owned Skipton Castle since 1956. He was involved in setting up the scheme and, a decade later, is still an emphatic ‘yes’ voter.
His family might have ‘only’ been at the castle for 62 years but they have been deeply embedded in the town’s commercial fabric since setting up a jewellery business in the high street in 1827.
‘Prior to the BID, it was the same small group of people who promoted and supported events in Skipton,’ he said. ‘What the BID did was to increase resources so that events could be bigger and better and Skipton promoted as a destination.
‘The future of a vibrant town is a destination town. Skipton is a destination town. It has much to offer from the woods, market, canal, castle and museum to its attractive high street shops, cafes and restaurants, all set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales.’
It sounds so good, you almost wonder why anyone lives anywhere else.