Cheers to the Husthwaite apple corps as village looks for funds

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A North Yorkshire village has drawn on its history to help fund its future. Chris Berry reports.

When Dr Beeching wielded his axe over the rural rail network in the 1960s one of the casualties was Husthwaite in the Hambleton Hills. It didn’t just lose its station it also lost its centuries-old commercial fruit industry which relied heavily on rail transportation.

Today’s villagers are now restoring Husthwaite’s fruity heritage and at the same time providing a unique funding source for village projects.

Their core business is apples and a not-for-profit community enterprise called Orchards of Husthwaite that is run entirely by volunteers.

It’s the sort of success story the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS Roadshow is seeking to promote. Next Thursday, the roadshow rolls into Skipton to highlight the steps rural communities are taking, or could take when they face losing vital services, from pubs to village shops and public transport.

These are common issues and Husthwaite has found its own unique means of breaking a circle of decline. Their innovation satisfies both social obligations and commercial reality.

One of the key players is Cameron Smith. he is one of five trustees of the Orchards of Husthwaite and the driving force behind a micro-brewery business. This is based in two converted cow byres at Manor House, where 6,000 litres of cider and 3,000 litres of apple juice are now produced each year:

“Husthwaite was once known as the orchard village of North Yorkshire and its fruit was transported by rail,” says Cameron Smith. “We wanted to preserve the village’s heritage which goes back 300 years as a commercial fruit- growing community and we also felt that we could make money for the village at the same time.

“We formed Orchards of Husthwaite in 2009 with the intention of replanting the orchards, which had vanished, and using the fruit to sell a variety of products which include cider, apple juice, apple brandy, damson gin and liqueurs.

“There are a dozen villagers involved in the processing stages and another 20 who pick the apples. We have planted over 700 new trees in and around the village, either in newly planted orchards or in residents’ gardens, and we also grow pears and plums. Orchards of Husthwaite is now an enabler for projects and activities in the village.”

The village enterprise is also becoming a public attraction and their sole pub has changed its name from The Balmoral to The Orchard.

Cameron Smith adds, “When I first came here 25 years ago there used to be a popular village fete, but that finished back in 2000. We now have an Apple Fair on the second Sunday in September each year including cider competitions, live music, animals and a market. Last year it had an attendance of over 800.

“We produce three brands of cider and sell our product across a 20-mile radius. We attend CAMRA beer festivals as cider has become more popular again in recent years.”

It all chimes in well with the general revival of interest in locally-produced food and the willingness of people to travel to seek it out, especially if it is to be found in an attractive village in the Hambleton Hills.

The French have shown the way in how to exploit a market for regional food delicacies.

One town in a fruit growing area of south west France for example styles itself the “capital of the prune” and does very well out of it.

Husthwaite wants to build a new village hall to replace the current one, which was originally two Nissen huts stuck together in 1914 and clad in brick.

The local apple revolution won’t make much of a dint in the £500,000 required to bring it about, but it will play a part in providing funds for facilities inside a new hall.

The cider operation has already funded the building of library shelves on wheels for the village’s latest new project, a fortnightly library/book exchange in village hall.

Lawrie Hill who is liaising with designers and architects for the new hall says, “What Cameron and the other villagers are doing is remarkable.

“They are adding much-needed funds to our village and they are putting in so much time on behalf of the rest of the village.

“We need to raise £50,000 of the £500,000 ourselves and to have a business providing regular funds for village activity is welcome. The fact that is run by volunteers shows the spirit we have here.

“The Big Lottery looks at whether your village is a good recipient for one of their grants and they want to see that everyone can benefit. The more public involvement we have the better.”

Another speaker at the roadshow in Skipton will be Leah Swain, the chief officer of Rural Action Yorkshire.

She will emphasise the growing need for communities to take matters into their own hands or face the prospect of losing further rural services.

“People are setting up enterprising projects such as shops, pubs and transport schemes to help reverse the trend of rural decline for their community,” she says.

“What is happening in villages like Husthwaite shows the resourcefulness of communities.”

Villages are fighting back

The Village SOS Roadshow is at the Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton next Thursday 10 May from 10am to 3.30pm.

Residents of Hudswell will also be speaking about their enterprise.

They bought the village pub, the George and Dragon, which would otherwise have closed.

The residents have since turned it into the hub of the village with its own shop and bookswap/library, allotments and a facility for broadband access.