Over 20 years ago, in 1996, a new player emerged on the stage of the Yorkshire Dales – the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.
The trust owed its existence to the shrewd foresight of two people in particular – Councillor Robert Heseltine of Skipton, then Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee (as it was then) and Richard Harvey, first full time national park officer for the Yorkshire Dales.
Both realised that whatever political party was in power, there would always be shortages of cash for any local or national government funded body. Public sector funding always go in waves – cash-rich when green ideas and protecting the environment seem a good way to capture votes, but cash starved when the next financial crisis appears and chancellors must appear tough on any “non-essential” expenditure.
Robert and Richard realised that much of the national park’s funding would always be required for core planning functions - development control and forward planning - even though the real purposes of national parks involve public access, sensitive visitor management, environmental education and above all longer-term conservation projects, always first to go when cash is tight.
They realised then that the forthcoming celebration of the new Millennium offered a once in a lifetime chance to bring some badly needed cash to the Yorkshire Dales. But this money would not be given to local authorities, only to community based organisations, especially charities.
One such existing charity active in the Dales was the Yorkshire Dales Society, established in 1981 and at that time with around 1,500 members. But the society felt that its independent role as a campaigning body would be fatally compromised if it also had to focus on fundraising, not its sometimes controversial watchdog role.
How could large sums of money be accepted from government bodies or even large companies if at the same time, the society was fighting to prevent major development or criticising the national park for not doing its job? But the society agreed to fully support and to take an active role with the new charity, even having two of its own trustees on its Board. The national park, now an independent authority, helped by offering a full-time member of staff, Richard Witt, to help set up the new trust as a fundraising charity and not-for-profit company, whose income could be then used to “match fund” public and private sector grants.
Within months the Millennium Trust was making its mark. Based in the old post office in Clapham, a small team of dedicated staff was recruited. Top priority was to secure major new funding support from the government’s Millennium Commission and Heritage Lottery Fund.
There was huge delight when the Trust secured financial backing for two major projects – Environet and Dales Living Landscapes, representing no less than £5.5 million of new funding into the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale AONB. But every penny of funding from HLF and government had to be matched by funds raised locally from the public, from individuals and from business donations. A huge range of community based projects were delivered, including rebuilding and restoration of village halls, repairing miles of drystone wall, rebuilding of traditional barns, resurfacing footpaths and planting of over a million native trees – all things the national park desperately wanted to achieve but had not the resources to do.
There was a fear that in the years after the Millennium excitement had died down, that funds would dry up. But the trust proved nothing if not resilient. Thanks to the constant support and experience of the trustees, and dedicated staff led by present director Dave Sharrod, the trust survived by proving superbly skilled at earning money from a huge variety of sources, including consultancy work, project management, fund raising, and by attracting grants, legacies and donations from a wide variety of sources. In its 20-year life, it is estimated that the trust has delivered over 1,900 projects for the Dales and its communities, bringing an amazing £27 million into the Dales economy, as all the work must be delivered by mainly locally-based contractors and craftsmen and women, including many younger Dales people. There are now highly successful apprenticeship schemes to help develop skills needed for conservation tasks to protect the environment. The hugely successful Haytime Project to restore and revive precious traditional upper Dales hay meadows is a national success story, whilst the annual Flowers in the Dales Festival brings together many local groups to celebrate the area’s rich floral heritage. Nor are people from outside the Dales ignored. The People and the Dales project has enabled hundreds of people from disadvantaged backgrounds in nearby cities to experience the Dales with all the health benefits of outdoor activities in inspiring surroundings.
The current HLF funded Stories in Stone project, taking place in the Ingleborough area, is another example of how the YDMT team and partner groups are making a real difference in this part of the Dales, in terms of safeguarding, interpreting and encouraging enjoyment of a unique landscape and cultural heritage.
The vision of the trust’s founders has been realised to a degree beyond wildest expectations. The National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Dales Society has seen the trust become a highly effective partner to deliver their own core objectives. Even in times of cutbacks and uncertainties, the trust enjoys, at the start of its third decade, hard-won success which can surely only be built on, for the long-term benefit of the Yorkshire Dales, its communities and its visitors.