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Broughton Hall: still creating jobs after 900 years!

Friday 23 March 2007

Our countryside and rural affairs commentator John Sheard, who has watched the stunning transformation of a country estate into a hi-tech business centre, congratulates the Tempest family of Broughton Hall, Skipton, on yet another national award for its pioneering "green" business park

WHEN we moved to the Yorkshire Dales 20 years ago, we immediately ran into on of the great dilemmas of life in Craven. It had, and still has, some of the finest state schools in Britain, schools which turned out university students by the score.

Broughton's Utopia Building
Broughton's award-winning Utopia building

Trouble was, apart from the Skipton Building Society, there were far too few high status, highly paid careers in the area for them to come back to on graduation. Result: many of our finest young brains left the area for good. One member of this rural brain drain was my daughter, who had to go a very long way indeed to find a job she fancied: Japan.

At the same time, a young man just up the road from me was facing an even graver conundrum: how to save one of the most beautiful homes in Yorkshire from, almost literally, falling to bits. Broughton Hall, that wonderful honey-coloured 18th Century house just off the A59, needed millions spending on repairs - and the estate was not creating nearly enough revenue from farming to meet the bill.

That's when I first met young Roger Tempest, whose family have lived in many different houses at Broughton since they built a corn mill there in the 12th Century. He, too, had left home to work in London for the then newspaper magnate Eddie Shah and we had some mutual friends from Fleet Street.

But (like my daughter, I am delighted to report) he had come back home to climb what seemed to be the insuperable mountain: to keep Broughton Hall in the family at a time when income from agriculture was just dropping in the nosedive from which it has still to recover.

it is now a place where some 500 people work in highly paid, highly skilled

And he grasped an idea which would dovetail two problems neatly together. From his experience in London, he knew only too well about the huge cost of renting office space in big cities plus the mind-bending hassle of commuting to and from those offices and then finding somewhere to park.

He also knew that in its heyday, Broughton Hall had employed scores of people - perhaps hundreds if workers on rented farms were included - and they had left behind them dozens of empty buildings: stables, workshops, store rooms, even its own gas works installed in the days before electric lighting.

Could he put the two together - an at the same time raise enough capital to tackle the urgently needed repairs on the house?

That was the beginning of the Broughton Hall Business Park, which this week won yet another award for one of its buildings (see News, Wednesday). But as well as creating one of the most applauded architectural developments in the UK, it has done something of even greater significance: it is now a place where some 500 people work in highly paid, highly skilled jobs which, thanks the Internet and the Web, span the world.

Inside Broughton's Utopia building
Inside Broughton's award-winning Utopia building

There are scientists and computer programmers, hydrologists and stress counsellors. At one time, a man ran a fleet of oil tankers from Broughton. The latest success story is the arrival of the management and design team of the Silver Cross pram makers, whose products are used from Hollywood to Shanghai and are much loved by European royalty.

To me, this is the future of rural employment for our best brains (rather like Daelnet, in fact, our own little hi-tech business run from a converted barn in the Yorkshire Dales). With farming in steep decline, and tourism offering important but often part-time work, we need to keep our best youngsters here if we can.

So why drive an hour into Leeds and pay a million pounds per square foot for office space when you can work in a beautifully designed office surrounded by grass, trees and a sparkling, bubbling, trout-filled beck?

I am not alone in this view. Broughton Hall's business venture has been so successful that stately home owners throughout the country are queuing up for advice on how to do the same without ruining their hallowed estates. Well, done, Roger Tempest. Keep up the good work - my grandson might need a good job in another 20 years time.

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