Hopes are high that threatened key services in Hawes will be saved after hundreds of residents came forward in a show of community spirit, offering to help fund creating the country’s first community-owned fuel station.
More than 200 residents of Wensleydale, Upper Swaledale and Garsdale have expressed an interest in pooling their resources to buy Dale Head Garage in Hawes from Holmfirth-based private pension fund Minerva SIPP, which has indicated it intends to liquidate the assets and sell it off when the current lease expires.
The show of support has delighted community leaders behind the move, who had initially hoped to attract 80 to 100 people to invest in a community buy-out.
The move at the garage comes less than five years after the late Upper Dales councillor John Blackie led the Upper Dales Community Partnership in saving it from closure and using its profits to support the town’s post office, library and Little White Bus service.
The filling station became the first in England to be run by the community when the previous owners sold up in November 2017. Because of its rural location, the garage is one of only a handful in the country to benefit from the Government’s 5p a litre rural fuel rebate scheme.
Well attended public meetings at Hawes Market Hall have heard about 240 people had recently indicated to the partnership they would consider buying shares in a community benefit society to buy the garage from the pension fund for about £360,000.
Hawes parish councillor David Colley, who has led the community buy-out, said if the garage was sold on the open market, the loss of its profits used to subsidise the community ventures would have a negative impact on the town and surrounding area.
He said: “We are trying to do something tremendously important for this community and the dale.”
Coun Colley said the plan was for most of the shareholders to invest £1,000 each and form a firm to buy the garage and lease it for ten years to the partnership, which would be responsible for the garage’s safety and security.
Another director of the partnership, haulage firm boss Peter Metcalfe, said if there was no fuel station in the town it would make life very difficult for residents and traders.
He said: “A lot of people want to be involved. We have had good interest in buying shares and it’s very positive going forward, particularly as we also getting support and a potential investment from the people we are attempting to buy the garage from.
“This will be a big thing for the community, it will help keep it together. As a partnership, we are proud of the community spirit which is coming with this. To be part of it and knowing you have a community behind you is a privilege.”
Mr Metcalfe said many people in the area had not realised how the garage was financially tied together with the post office, library and Little White Bus. He said: “We are now looking at the final piece in the jigsaw to secure the future of everything. After the latest meeting people went away confident and happy. There was no negativity towards it.”