People in Hudswell in lower Swaledale have received the backing of the National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF), as they attempt to convert their listed former parish church into an 18-bed hostel.
A SDF grant of £50,000 has been awarded to the Hudswell Community Charity, which has said it needs to raise a total of £1.1m during the next 18 months to carry out the conversion.
In a fitting symbol for the project, the charity has commissioned a local joiner to turn the redundant wooden pews of the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels into bunk beds.
The charity says it is looking to provide affordable and comfortable accommodation for hikers, cyclists and pilgrims – for about £28 a night – in part to attract custom to the community-owned village pub and shop.
Hudswell Community Charity trustee Martin Booth said: “Our old parish church is unfortunately no longer in use and we’re trying to give it a new lease of life and preserve its heritage for the village and for the country.
“The church is on a network of paths that lead down through Hudswell woods to Richmond, two miles away, and all the way up Swaledale. Swaledale is the most beautiful of the Yorkshire Dales and the paths from this hostel will lead right up the dale to Keld.
“The church is also close to the Coast to Coast path, which is becoming a national trail, and also there is going to be a ‘camino’ from Durham through here right down to the south coast and on to Santiago in Spain, so we think we can attract pilgrims to come to stay in the hostel in the church.”
Mr Booth said the charity had been given research which showed there was a need for such a facility.
“The Richmondshire Building Preservation Trust had a proposal to build a hostel in Richmond but it never came off. They employed consultants to research the demand for hostel accommodation in Richmond and they let us have that research and it demonstrated there was a need for a hostel; there isn’t a hostel within about ten miles of here.
“There is no low cost, short term one-night accommodation in Richmond or Hudswell. We’re aiming for people who want to stay for one or two nights, who are travelling through mainly on foot or by cycle and there is definitely a gap in that market. We’re very confident there would be enough custom to make the hostel viable.”
He added that, “We are extremely grateful for the YDNPA for this grant and the faith that they have shown in us to take on this project that will preserve an important piece of the National Park’s heritage and provide a tourist facility to enable people to stay in this corner of the National Park. We have a lot of funds to raise, but the support of the YDNPA is very important to us and will believe it will encourage other funders to support us.”
Charity treasurer Annie Sumner, who came up with the idea to turn the pews into bunk beds, said the local community wanted to welcome more visitors.
“We’re very lucky in this village in that we haven’t got huge numbers of holiday cottages, so we’re not suffering from that fatigue from visitors that some of the villages in the upper dales have. And we have a successful community-owned pub and shop – so we want people to come and use them
“The pews seem to be too good to go to waste, so turning them into bunk beds seems like a good idea. I’ve asked a local joiner who will take them away and he thinks he can get at least some of the beds out of them. It’s not guaranteed but he’s going to try.”
Another trustee is the rector of the United Benefice of Richmond with Hudswell and Downholme and Marske, the Rev Martin Fletcher.
He said: “I’ve been here five years now and when I came the church was already closed for worship. But it’s not going to disappear – the building – so it needs to be maintained in some way and it is loved by the village. The church yard is open so people come here to visit loved ones buried in the graves, so it’s very important the church isn’t let to go to wrack and ruin.
“We are greatly blessed in the calibre of the people in this community who make things like the pub, the shop and the social housing work. If we can’t get this church to be repurposed in this way, with this group of people, then other church buildings have no chance of being repurposed.
“What we don’t want is for this church building to end up being some grand house, isolated from the community. We want it to remain part of the community.”
Member Champion for Sustainable Development at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Carl Lis, said: “I warmly commend the efforts of the Hudswell Community Charity trustees as they try to find a new purpose for their old parish church. It’s always encouraging to see local communities in the National Park find ways of sharing the special place in which they live with others. We really hope that the Authority’s grant will help the Trustees to be able to go and secure the rest of the funds that they need to make the project happen.”
More information can be found on the website www.daleshostel.com