Stump Cross Caverns owners put Pateley Bridge flat in prize draw to help foot £200,000 repairs bill

Stump Cross Caverns’ owners are taking extreme measures to save the tourist attraction by putting their own property into a prize draw. Chris Burn reports.

Lisa Bowerman in the caves Picture Gerard Binks

Stump Cross Caverns has made plenty of headlines in recent months after the historic site’s owners put their own luxury VW camper van into a prize draw in a desperate bid to raise funds following major financial challenges caused by the Covid pandemic.

While that successful effort by owners Lisa Bowerman and Nick Markham helped contribute to raising £70,000 to help keep the site open – with the camper van going to 29-year-old Chris Riley, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer last year – they are now going even further to secure the future of the business by putting their own one-bedroom apartment in Pateley Bridge up in a prize draw.

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It is hoped the money can allow them to pay for essential repairs at the site expected to cost around £200,000.

Stump Cross Caverns are believed to have been formed around half-a-million years ago, with the limestone cave system in North Yorkshire discovered in 1860 by lead miners and being open to the public ever since.

But that rich history has been put at risk by the impact of the Covid pandemic and in particular lockdown closures and social distancing restrictions.

Owners of the family-run attraction, which is located between Pateley Bridge and Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales, revealed earlier this year that ticket sales have fallen by more than £350,000 in 12 months as visitor numbers plummeted from their usual 60,000 to just 15,000.

People can enter the new draw for £10 for the ground floor apartment, which is valued at £130,000. As part of the prize, council tax payments will be covered for the rest of the current tax year.

Lisa Bowerman, owner of the ancient limestone caves which were formed more than 500,000 years ago, says: “Having to sell another of our personal possessions is heart breaking, but an unsuccessful bid for Government funding and forced closures have seen ticket sales plummet, leaving us with losses of more than £500,000.

“We just haven’t had the income to cover maintenance and reinvest in the future of the caves.

“It’s make or break for us right now and selling the apartment is the only way we can do essential repairs, including the renewal of the lighting system, and also ensure the caves are here for the benefit of others for many generations to come.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the public and hope that they will be there to help us on our last push towards reopening.

“Pledging as little as £10 means one person could walk away with their very own property and contribute towards saving this ancient tourist attraction.”

To help overcome the impact of the pandemic, Stump Cross is also working closely with local business, Otley-based, Apollo3D, on providing virtual guided tours for schools.

Lisa says: “This is a really important step forward for us as we’ll be able to reach out to schools, who either can’t visit due to visitor number restrictions or are based too far away to explore in person.

“Clever technology, developed by Apollo3D, means our team of experts will be able to take children on a live virtual 3D tour of the magnificent caves, including parts hidden away from everyday visitors, and answer any questions they may have – all from the comfort of their classroom.

“There’s also potential to tap into a global market and generate some much-needed extra income. It’s a very exciting development opportunity and we’re hopeful it will prove to be really popular with those unable to visit in person.”

The crowdfunder for the apartment will remain open until 20,000 tickets are sold.

Once this total has been reached a date will be set for the live prize draw. If the £200,000 campaign target isn’t met refunds will be processed and the apartment withdrawn from the appeal.  It comes as almost 3,000 people have signed the site’s ‘Save the Caves’ petition after the attraction’s application for a Cultural Recovery Fund grant was rejected as they were told they did not fit into the Government guidelines.

Due to its natural and cultural importance, Stump Cross is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Bones of Ice Age creatures have been discovered in the caverns including reindeer, wolverine and bison and some are now on display in the visitor centre.

Its cave system extends well beyond the public access show caves, to an overall length of approximately 6km.

Many of the deeper caverns are only accessible to experienced cavers, but there are plans to open further sections in the future.

Last week, it was announced that Keighley barber Chris Riley was the winner of the camper van prize draw.

He said at the time the news was particular special given his cancer diagnosis.

“Having had a tough 12 months, following my diagnosis, this was the best news ever. Winning the camper van is one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me.

“We’ve now got plenty to look forward to this coming summer.”

Lisa Bowerman said: “It means so much to us to know that our appeal, and the generosity of our supporters, has not only saved the caves from closure and safeguarded our team, but will also help someone who’ll really benefit from this truly amazing prize.”

For more information about the draw, visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/win-a-home-pateley-bridge.

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