Hot-desking comes to the Dales in bid to attract more young workers

Office hot-desking, in which colleagues compete for space in a roomful of computer terminals, is familiar to many in the hothouse work environments of the city, but the concept is now also gaining ground in the wide open Yorkshire Dales.

Artist Rachel Thornton

A first round of grants, worth nearly £100,000 and aimed at making the National Park a more attractive proposition to younger people starting creative businesses, includes backing for “co-working and sponsored desk space” in Skipton.

The Qworkery project, founded by children’s author Katie Birks and translator Anita Birch, is one of 16 to be awarded money by Great Place Lakes and Dales, a lottery and Arts Council funded organisation tasked with attracting more younger people to an area whose young population is in critical decline.

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Another 50 groups are being considered for a second round of grants, due to be announced at the end of the month.

Ms Birch said she and her colleague had noticed a demand in the Dales for office space in which freelancers and self employed workers could use a desk for half a day, a day or every day.

She said: “As freelancers ourselves, we know the importance of having an inspiring, social space to work in away from home.”

The project’s premises on Otley Street will now include two desks specifically for 18 to 35-year-olds, the age bracket targeted by the grants programme.

Rachel Thornton, an artist and printmaker in Bentham, who specialises in wooden artworks, has been awarded funds to set up an exchange scheme with a Scandinavian artist, in order to hold school workshops and share experiences about making a living in a rural area.

Ms Thornton said she had chosen to remain in the Dales, where her family moved when she was a child, rather than pursue a course at the Royal College of Art in London.

“I didn’t expect that I would be able to have a career in the arts up here,” she said.

“But I didn’t want to leave, and I was offered brilliant studio space here. I want to show people that it is possible to have a creative career in this area. You just have to work at it.”

Another grant will fund a trainee position with an oral history project based in Settle.

Manon Keir, programme officer for Great Place Lakes and Dales, said: “There’s a wealth of young creative talent in our area and we are really looking forward to working with our creative champions and seeing the projects come into fruition.”

A perfect storm of socio-economic challenges has driven young families out of smaller rural communities in the Dales, and the area’s population is said to be shrinking after previous decades of steady growth

More than a quarter of residents of the National Park are aged over 65 and just 15 per cent are aged under 15.

The Great Place programme, which is backed by local authorities, is one of several attempting to address the shortage of affordable housing, lack of jobs and related issues.

Gary Smith, communities director at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said in a report to members last month: “The demographic decline is symptomatic of much larger global and national trends, and the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.”