Buyers of Arkengarthdale C of E School revealed as couple who will set up an outdoor holidays business from the building

The buyers of a redundant primary school in the Yorkshire Dales which was at the centre of an affordable homes row have been revealed as a couple who plan to run a business from the building.

Martin and Sue Stephenson outside Arkengarthdale C of E Primary School

Martin and Sue Stephenson will move from Snowdonia, where they run a holiday company specialising in trail running, walking and yoga breaks, to Arkengarthdale after buying the former Church of England school, which closed in 2019 when pupil numbers dwindled to just five, for £185,000.

The Stephensons are both from the Richmondshire area originally and decided to return to support their elderly parents.

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Having been made aware of the controversy and dispute surrounding the sale of the school, they have promised to take a full and active role in community life while running a sustainable business that brings tourism into the area.

Martin plans to join the Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team and Sue is considering volunteering as a first responder for the ambulance service.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust had wanted to buy the school for conversion into affordable housing for local families, but the parochial church council were bound by legal covenants to instead sell it to the highest bidder.

Building surveyor Martin, 57, said: “We had planned to stay in Wales for another couple of years but have decided to return to our roots to support my parents.

“My father has dementia and whilst my mum is coping at the moment, she’s not indestructible. They’re both 88 and we can see the writing on the wall - they’re going to need our support and we want to be there for them.

“We decided not to enter into the debate about the sale. It wasn’t our argument and if we’d withdrawn from the purchase there was a queue of other buyers waiting to take our place.

“We are hoping to convert the school into our forever home. We completely transformed Capel Jerusalem, our previous home in Snowdonia National Park, which also functioned as a holiday let. We will treat the school with the same attention to detail and respect.”

Sue, 53, a former marketing consultant, added: “Our weekends were proving to be very popular and it was such a shame when we had to cancel most of our 2020 activities due to coronavirus.

“However, we’re very excited to think that when we re-start operations it will be in the Yorkshire Dales. The school has the space we need, and we will retain one of the classrooms for navigation training and exercise classes.

“We want to work with local people to create a programme of activities and hope that we can benefit other local businesses, who offer accommodation, food and activities such as mountain biking.”

They are considering converting part of the school into a one-bedroom annexe for Sue's elderly father, who lives alone in Northallerton.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust are believed to be interested in purchasing three empty Methodist chapels in Bainbridge, Aysgarth and Middleham, which have also become the subjects of an affordable homes debate. The Methodist Church's property division expressed caution over the restrictions stipulated by the National Park Authority over the future use of such conversions - which must be rented to local tenants - and indicated that they would offer the chapels for sale on the open market.