Revival of Yorkshire Dales inn The Tennant Arms which appeared in Calendar Girls movie provides hope for sector

When the Hollywood blockbuster based on the headline-grabbing activities of the ladies of Rylstone WI was released in 2003, filmgoers around the world became familiar with the majestic scenery of the Yorkshire Dales.

Calendar Girls, which told the life-affirming story of a group of women from the WI who had - almost - completely undressed for a charity calendar, was a priceless marketing opportunity for rural communities which depended on tourism.

One particular landmark hotel and bar, which had a prominent role in the film, caught the eye. The Tennant Arms, which nestles under the massive limestone outcrop of Kilnsey Crag, was built in the 17th century as a coaching inn alongside the pack-horse road through Wharfedale.

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The arms is more than simply a community pub. It dominates the surrounding valley like a monarch surveying his kingdom.

Library image of Dame Helen Mirren, who played the role of Patricia Stewart, in the film. She is pictured with five of the Calendar Girls at the Chelsea Flower Show. From left, Angela Baker, Beryl Bamforth, Lynda Logan, Chris Clancy and Ros Fawcett. Picture: JPI Media

However, in common with many famous country inns, its recent history has provided a case study for the wider problems facing the sector.

When it closed last year due to the financial impact of Covid, many feared that time had been called forever.

Its apparent demise seemed to be a sign of the times. The number of boarded up - even burned out - pubs has grown at an alarming rate, with Covid and lockdown delivering the final blow to enterprises that have been buffeted by changes in consumer behaviour.

But with the right leadership, they can be revived. Kirsty Ridge, the managing director of INNO Hospitality Collective, is living proof of how far common sense and a powerful work ethic can take you.

The Tennant Arms is based in the historic Yorkshire Dales hamlet of Kilnsey

The Tennant Arms has reopened with Ms Ridge at the helm. Few people can match Ms Ridge’s drive, ambition and experience of the hospitality sector.

She started working as a pot-washer in a Lake District hotel, when she was just 13, and over the last seven years, the 31-year-old has built up an impressive business empire by canny decision-making.

INNO Hospitality Collective is one of two pub groups owned and operated by Ms Ridge. The second, Lakeland Inns, has been successfully trading in Cumbria and the Lake District for a number of years.

Ms Ridge wants to be a role model for other women who aim to reach the top in a traditionally male-dominated sector.

Kirsty Ridge, the managing director of INNO Hospitality Collective, is living proof of how far common sense and a powerful work ethic can take you.

“I’ve got two little girls who are four and another girl on the way, and I want to provide them with a positive role model for what a woman in business can achieve,’’ she told me.

“I want my little girls to see that work is never a chore if you love what you do.”

She believed the Tennant Arms had a bright future because of its location and size.

“We have found over the years that the pubs which have been the most successful are the ones that can seat people in different areas, so they can become multiple purpose venues. It also means the pub is large enough to look after locals and visitors,’’ she said.

There is no shortage of potential pubs to operate, but Ms Ridge is seeking pubs in great locations with accommodation.

This suggests, perhaps, that not every pub can be saved. It’s particularly difficult for pubs to keep going if they don’t provide food.

During 2020, around 37 pubs a month in England and Wales were demolished or converted into home or offices, according to analysis of official Government data by the real estate adviser Altus Group.

The days when there was a pub on every corner may be gone. But that doesn’t mean the sector is in terminal decline.

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How the famous Yorkshire Dales hotel The Tennant Arms in Kilnsey has fought back...

Growing numbers of Britons have been holidaying close to home, as the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have made foreign travel less appealing, and in some cases, virtually impossible.

We have suddenly become more conscious of the attractions on our doorstep. This presents an opportunity for inns like the Tennant Arms, who can reach out to UK travellers in search of breaks in the Dales. Places like the Tennant Arms retain more than just a sprinkling of Hollywood glitter. Their finest hour may be approaching.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson