Reeling younger generation back into the Dales

Sarah Bird (left) and Rowan Hoban, Directors of Wild Rumpus
Sarah Bird (left) and Rowan Hoban, Directors of Wild Rumpus
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When the curtain goes up at the start of the Hinterlands Film Festival in the Dales next month, it will be on a movie shot half a century ago – yet for the audience it will herald a new era.

The 900-year-old Skipton Castle is the unlikely venue for the screening of Kes, a quintessentially Yorkshire film, though one whose coal mining milieu is far removed from the rolling hills and dry stone walls of Wharfedale.

Lindsey Hebden from Great Place Lakes and Dales.

Lindsey Hebden from Great Place Lakes and Dales.

But the fact that it is being shown at all is a sign of the cultural change blowing through the Dales, amid a growing realisation that culture, as well as the more tangible benefits of affordable housing, schools and shops, are necessary to sustain communities of working families in the patchwork of villages that make up the area.

Its population, it is no secret, is older than the average for England. Around Skipton itself, only 17 per cent are aged from 16 to 34, against an average for England of just over a quarter.

It is a demographic that values its social life, and for many, not even the Dales landscape is sufficient compensation for the absence of amenities urbanites take for granted.

The Hinterlands Festival, a four-day celebration of rural film that takes in all-night screenings and boutique camping, is part of the outreach going on from within rural communities to prevent them becoming retirement enclaves.

“The really exciting thing, especially for people who live in and around Skipton, is that it’s taking place in so many different venues – animating the town and bringing it to life as they look at their usual landscape in a different way,” said Sarah Bird, who, with Rowan Hoban runs Wild Rumpus, the cultural events company responsible for the programme.

Its theme, Ms Hoban added, is a natural fit, with features such as the 2017 Yorkshire-set drama, God’s Own Country.

“The films we’re showing are often based in communities like Skipton and the villages nearby.” Hinterlands is a counterpoint to the more traditional, though still thriving, Dales festivals of flowers, food and literature that take place right across the area from spring to autumn.

It has been championed by Great Place Lakes and Dales, a pilot project funded from the lottery and the Arts Council, whose mission is to change the perception of the Dales from purely a holiday destination to a viable option for a practical family life.

This, says Lindsey Hebden, its programme manager, involves talking to an audience of younger – as opposed to young – people.

“We’re talking about 16-44 year-olds, and that’s a very broad age range, from students to families,” she said.

“We’re looking to retain younger people who live here already – that doesn’t mean stopping them from going away and experiencing the world, but ensuring that we maintain a relationship with them, welcoming them back, and bringing some of what they’ve learned back into the area.”

The designer Wayne Hemingway, founder of the Red or Dead fashion label, is among a community of “creative champions” recruited to promote and share ideas about living and working in the Dales.

“Empowering youth culture and voices is very much what we’re about,” said Ms Hebden.

“But we can’t do that unless we actually embed creative considerations into the policy and planning of the area.”