I’m sitting here writing this with my feet up on the bench on the terrace outside Derwentwater Youth Hostel. Before me is the lake - shining and twinkling in today’s welcome sunshine. Beyond the lake, Catbells and Maiden Moor stand their sombre guard. I can see five magpies circling the beautiful Douglas Fir at the bottom of the lawn, their chattering drowned out by the chatter of 30 school children on their way down the drive to go canoeing in the lake. Another 30 have already left to go climbing and abseiling on nearby Shepherd’s Crag. Behind the hostel 20 more children are out on a Nature Trail in the beautiful wooded grounds with its thunderous waterfall. Yesterday they were lucky enough to see a pair of red squirrels. As they finished dinner a badger lumbered towards his regular feeding spot just outside the dining room window. At bedtime, through the large Georgian dormitory windows, the children watched the sun go down in spectacular fashion across the lake. This is Barrow House, Derwentwater Youth Hostel. And this is an experience — staying in a Georgian mansion with amazing views and spacious grounds in the Lake District — that would otherwise be exclusively for the rich.
Soon this place will be returned to the financially privileged. The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) — founded in 1930, "To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside" — has scheduled Derwentwater and seven other Youth Hostels for closure and sale.
The YHA claims that it can no longer support a 150-strong network of hostels and reckons the sale of eight hostels will help reduce borrowings and pay for refurbishments elsewhere. They say Derwentwater would cost £1.2 million to refurbish but could raise £2 million if sold.
Those of us who know this place challenge the YHA strategy.
The £1.2 million quoted for refurbishment would cover extensive plans that include an extension. If the hostel were simply restored and updated then the sum required would be significantly less.
The proposed £2m sale price looks optimistic, given the current climate and the difficulties in obtaining planning consents in the Lake National District Park.
YHA Derwentwater has always been a popular hostel, providing YHA with a consistently good income (£124,000 profit last year) that has in the past funded the refurbishment and purchase of other hostels.
There is a real danger that YHA will sell it for considerably less than they are counting on, which would be self-defeating since they will also lose the significant income the hostel generates.
Like so much that is of huge social value, once it’s gone we will never get it back.
Former youth hostel workers, like me, and people who have stayed at YHA Derwentwater have joined together to campaign for Derwentwater to remain as a youth hostel.
We need people to add their voice to the campaign to let YHA know how much Derwentwater youth hostel is valued as it is, without the extensive refurbishment YHA is convinced it requires, and that the long-term business is worth more than the revenue from a quick sale. We need to save this hostel for the benefit of children and young people now and in the future.
Fiona McCarthy has worked in youth hostels for 11 years and lives in Cockermouth, Cumbria.
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