Rural campaigner Colin Speakman takes a look at Grassington Hub and how it is central to the thriving community

NO one likes paying tax; but we all like good public services. To get elected politicians must always pretend, in the famous phrase “we can have our cake and eat it”.

In the real world, we can’t have both. Today’s cut in income, corporation or petrol tax is tomorrow’s cuts in social care, environmental protection, social housing, transport, libraries or youth services.

In the last few decades, governments of all political colours have chosen to allow people on good salaries and incomes to keep more of their wealth to buy expensive cars, luxury goods and foreign holidays. This has meant a steady reduction in support for public services. This process impacts on everyone, but especially younger people, older people and those on low incomes. It is especially acute in rural areas where public services, by their nature, are more expensive to provide. In addition, there is what might be described as the “demographic time bomb” of an ageing population, with people now living into their 80s and 90s and in their later years becoming ever more dependent on these reduced public services. The recent decision by North Yorkshire County Council to put a 2p surcharge on its Council Tax precept to be targeted at social care, is a realistic and responsible response to central government financial cuts. But Dales communities have a long tradition of self-reliance. A radical way forward is demonstrated in Upper Wharfedale by the remarkable story of the Grassington Hub. The Hub was founded in 2009 by a group of people in the village determined to do something when faced with the loss of a much loved and valued facility, the village library, until then provided by the county council. With the help of two local businessmen, premises were bought and necessary funds raised from private and public sources to safeguard the library. But it didn’t stop there. It was soon realised that the library was only the first step in setting up a unique community centre which would literally become a “Hub” for the village, a focal point for a huge range of activity. Groups of volunteers were recruited and Grassington Hub was set up as a charity and a limited company, with its own Board of Trustees/Directors, and a team of around 20 volunteers plus a part time paid librarian and a transport co-ordinator. With help from North Yorkshire County Council a minibus was acquired to provide transport for those without access to limited and reducing public transport services, including patient transport to local hospitals and medical centres.

Soon services at the hub were to grow to provide a box office for local events, including the prestigious Grassington Festival, and office services such as photocopying, passport photo provision, travel and events information, as well as local information and advice. Minibus services now include shopping and sightseeing trips for older people and lunch club activities.

Among the “retired” community who have come to live in Grassington are many active professionals, retired civil servants, local government officers, lecturers, teachers, businessmen and women, all highly motivated people who can offer a huge range of experience and knowhow which through the mechanism of the hub, they can share with other members of the community. The hub also becomes a place where other organisations such as the Parish Council, Chamber of Trade and other organisations, including many voluntary groups, can be in touch with each other and the wider community, thanks to an improved magazine and excellent local website - as well as a small local meeting room.The two greatest threats to the well-being of older people in many rural communities are physical isolation and loneliness. This in turn leads to depression and serious health problems, putting even more strain on already cash-starved social care services, and ultimately on the NHS. It is about more than just preventative medicine. Grassington Hub is a way of the community supporting itself, especially by giving more vulnerable people in that community contact and support at the time in their lives, for example during a period of widowhood, when they most need it. Nor are such initiatives unique in Wharfedale. The excellent Wharfedale Venturer bus service now provides a high quality public bus service between Grassington, Kettlewell and Buckden, six days a week, linking people in the upper Dale with Grassington and Skipton, integrating with the Pride of the Dales public bus. It is used by visitors as well as local people, thus helping to support the local economy. The Upper Wharfedale Community Interest Company also raises badly needed cash through the Grassington Beer Festival and other activities to support many worthwhile local causes, including the innovative evening Packhorse bus service linking local inns and restaurants – and this year a new monthly bus to Littondale.

Given the potentially devastating impact of current and planned government cuts which will soon leave local government in England reduced to little more than the basic functions of street lighting and rubbish collection, Grassington Hub is a model of how a community can use its own resources, the enthusiasm, skills and commitment of the people within that community, to meet otherwise unmet needs, and to help its less fortunate citizens. It is also about empowerment, people taking responsibility for their own future. Grassington – a beautiful small town in the heart of a National Park – may not be typical of less fortunate rural areas in less attractive parts of Britain. But it does offer a very positive way forward through otherwise very uncertain and difficult times ahead.