The Blue Badge Tourist Guides of Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 May 2015 | UPDATED: 01:38 24 October 2015
Joan Russell Photography
A new group of Blue Badge Guides hope to take tourists off the beaten track into South, East and West Yorkshire
A new generation of professional, qualified tourist guides is about to be unleashed on Yorkshire’s attractions. And it is not just the usual suspects they plan to promote.
For as well as the treasures of York, Bronte Country, the Dales, Moors and Yorkshire coast, they have been mugging up on the delights of the former industrial heartlands of South, East and West Yorkshire. The year-long, intensive training programme was set up for the two dozen would-be Blue Badge Guides by tourism training provider Cultural Tourism Training under the auspices of the Institute of Tourist Guiding.
By June it is anticipated that they will plug the gap in time for this summer’s boom, fuelled by Hull’s designation as 2017 UK City of Culture and the impact made by last year’s Tour de France.
Awarded by the Institute of Tourist Guiding, the Blue Badge is recognised across the world as the prime qualification for official guides in Britain. There hasn’t been a course in Yorkshire for at least 20 years, resulting in an ever diminishing number of trained guides.
Blue Badge Guides offer walking tours, themed tours, visits to museums and galleries, guides for conferences, sightseeing by coach and private vehicle.
The course was directed by Nicky Godfrey-Evans, from Penrith and Tess Pike, from Kirkby Lonsdale, who both sit on the Board of the Institute of Tourist Guiding and between them have decades of experience as guides and trainers.
On a recent training day in South Yorkshire, Nicky said: ‘We wanted to open the eyes of the trainee guides to the vast range of opportunities there are for guiding in lesser known areas of Yorkshire, which have elements that are often overlooked by visitors, and yet are of immense interest.
‘South Yorkshire has a fascinating story to tell, especially in terms of its industrial heritage, but its earlier history is very much in evidence too, and there is a vibrancy in places like Sheffield, where the visual and performing arts thrive. It is not just the honey-pots that have interesting and varied stories.’
One day’s training in beautiful Calderdale took in Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall – the resting place of Sylvia Platt – and Mytholmroyd where Ted Hughes was born, as well as Ilkley, Keighley, Harrogate, Wetherby and Harewood House.
The Sheffield day took in the cathedral, the Millennium Gallery, Winter Gardens, Peace Garden, the town hall and Full Monty filming locations, as well as a visit to Kelham Island.
Another South Yorkshire day included Rotherham, Conisbrough Castle, Doncaster, Wentworth Woodhouse and Penistone, stopping for lunch at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. ‘Everyone was impressed by the surprising number of historical and architectural gems that are dotted around South and West Yorkshire,’ said Nicky.
And fellow guide trainer, Tess, added: ‘There is tremendous interest in industrial heritage, and before the steel, coal mining and textile industries took a hold, these areas were rural idylls on private land owned by the entrepreneurs of their day.
‘So as well as the former blots on the landscape like pits and slagheaps that have been returned to the landscape and become part of the countryside, there are monuments to the wealthy, such as Wentworth Woodhouse.’
Student guide Nick Smith agrees. Harrogate born and bred, he has been delighted by the opportunities offered by South Yorkshire. For his Blue Badge project he focussed on Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield, and his chosen walk was Doncaster town centre.
Nick, aged 56, who set up his business YorTours last year after a life-time in corporate logistics, said: ‘In South Yorkshire we have the opportunity to take visitors to areas where there is an abundance of interesting things to see and do. It lifts the curtain on a fascinating world.
‘Kelham Island illustrates the diversity of Sheffield in terms of population, education and industrial heritage.
And Doncaster has the heritage of the locomotive production, the Minster, the Mansion House, some of the best markets in Europe and of course the racecourse where they hold the St Leger.’
The Blue Badge Guide course covers all aspects of life in the UK. That covers a wide range of subjects including geography, history, literature, arts, religion, education, the legal system and sport, as well as what is happening in Yorkshire today.
The trainees, who range in age from early 30s to 60s, are also taught practical techniques, including use of the microphone, how to project their voice, and how to select and present knowledge in an informative and interesting manner pertinent to the group on the day.
Tourism is already worth £7billion a year to Yorkshire’s economy and employs a quarter of a million people and once they have qualified, the Blue Badge Tourist Guides will be fully equipped with the skills needed to develop a full-time career as guides or to establish their own tourism businesses.
Welcome to Yorkshire’s international marketing and communications executive Helen Smith said it had been ‘absolutely vital’ for Yorkshire to train many more qualified guides.
‘It is Blue Badge Guides who meet and greet groups off ferries at Hull or at airports, and tell them all about the county’s attractions, history and culture,’ she said. ‘The visitors may already have their routes mapped out when they arrive, but the guides can tell them all about the other attractions in the county and encourage them to return.’
The course ended with exams in April and the successful guides will receive their Blue Badges at an awards ceremony at Ripley Castle on June 4th .
One special prize will be named after the doyen of Yorkshire tourist guides, Louise Keegan, who passed away last autumn. She knew her last wish was about to be realised – the chairwoman of the Yorkshire Association of Blue Badge Guides made sure that a new generation was ready to take up the professional qualification. n
To find out more about Yorkshire’s Blue Badge Guides, email firstname.lastname@example.org.