How a community takeover of a disused petrol station could help regenerate two remote dales and bring tourists back

It is high noon on an autumnal day and as a gust sweeps through a village high in the Yorkshire Dales a socially distanced circle of what appears to be a disparate bunch of souls have gathered to help right a wrong.

While there’s to be no shoot-out in Reeth, Paul the livestock farmer, Richard the Liberal Democrat councillor, gamekeeper Nigel, Julie the hotelier and retired civil engineering firm director Tony are battling for the future of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

Some 28 months after flash floods left the area reeling, life seems to have largely returned to normal, but the group says the isolated community suffered a second body blow in the same week, the impact of which continues to be profound.

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No private buyers have so far come forward to run the petrol station

The only petrol station and hardware shop for many miles around closed.

“If we want fuel it’s a 20 or 30-mile round trip to Leyburn, Catterick or Barnard Castle”, Grinton livestock farmer Paul Brown, tells the group on the forecourt of the former petrol station.

“We are using fuel to buy fuel. When you turn up at the petrol station with gerry cans they’re having a go at you for panic-buying, and you’re saying ‘hang on a minute we have a valid reason’. Fuel has a big impact on your day if it takes you an hour just to go and get it.

“The village dies a little bit without the petrol station we used to have. People drive through it rather than stopping for a meal or having an ice cream.”

Richard Good outside the disused Reeth Garage

Standing close to the traditional roadside pumps, head keeper on the Duke of Norfolk’s 8,000-acre West Arkengarthdale Estate Nigel Winter adds that while locals employed on the estates and in other trades have also been hit by the closure, so has the tourism industry.

“We’re running a cottage and when tourists turn up from the south they’re often running on fumes when they get here, so ask if they can fill up in the village. The next day they go to fill up and spend the day in Richmond instead, rather spending the money here.”

The group says the tourism sector is at the heart of the local economy, with many businesses relying on each other.

Julie Harroven runs the five-star Burgoyne Hotel overlooking the village green after many years at the nearby Buck Hotel. “This has been a tremendous loss to people”, she says. “You hear it from just about every guest. Why isn’t your petrol station open?”

As months went by following the closure no private buyer for the site surfaced and a flash consultation saw almost most half the 1,500 population of the two dales call for the petrol station to be resurrected.

Tony Oldershaw, a Reeth resident and director of Hudson House, a not-for-profit venture which aims to regenerate the two dales, said it became clear community intervention was needed.

He says on moving to Reeth he’d wanted to put his skills in developing power stations and motorways behind him, but was now examining redeveloping a petrol station.

Tony adds: “There’s community shops and pubs all over the place, but other than the one at Hawes we’ve only found two or three petrol stations that are community-funded, and those are in deeply rural places in Scotland, where people, like here are in trouble without having petrol pumps.”

Options on the table include Hudson House buying the garage and letting it or launching a crowdfunded community-run 24-hour petrol station and grocery.

“Firstly we need to find out if it is a viable business, because there is a big question mark there is people’s minds”, says Tony. “Nobody has appeared to do the homework, so that is what Hudson House is doing.”

After approaching Richmondshire Council, Hudson House has been given £25,000 to carry out surveys of the petrol tanks, buildings and equipment and to estimate the likely costs of getting the petrol station running again.

Coun Richard Good, one of the driving forces behind the move, says the authority’s corporate board had recognised the key role of the petrol station and shop in protecting the existing community and aiding the council’s drive with the National Park Authority to attract young people to live there.

With the Ministry of Defence and Defence Infrastructure Organisation also backing the scheme, the council has submitted a bid for government Levelling Up funding.

“The National Park don’t realy want industry to leave the dale”, says Richard. “It’s no good providing housing unless there’s somewhere to work. To get government funding we will have to show community backing. The support for this project in the community is amazing.”