Convention takes over derelict pencil mill site
KESWICK’S historic former pencil factory, which has been empty since 2008, is to become the new base for the annual town Convention.
It will be the biggest move in the 140-year history of the interdenominational religious gathering, which attracts between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors to the town during its three-week run in July and August.
Keswick Ministries, the organisation responsible for organising the Convention, announced that it has completed a deal to buy the site from businessman Keith Graham, of Pelican Ventures Ltd.
It has been hailed as an “exciting” long term project by the operations manager for Keswick Convention, Simon Overend, who said it might take 10 years to bring the plan to full fruition, which would be around the 150th anniversary of the gathering.
Mr. Overend said: “It will take a lot of work to bring the building back into use, but we have now secured the site and the sale is expected to be finalised in the autumn.
“It could be that elements of the Convention could use the site as early as next year.”
Keswick Ministries will be consulting with Convention visitors this year and with the wider Keswick community in the autumn. It will also be discussing the change of use with Lake District National Park Authority planners, although some initial talks have already taken place.
Assurances have been given that the popular Keswick Pencil Museum will remain on its present site.
Keswick Ministries’ main site is in Skiddaw Street, where, during the event, a large marquee is erected so that up to 3,000 people can attend services and Bible study sessions.
The youth and children’s base is adjacent to the pencil factory site, at the Rawnsley Centre, which was formerly part of Keswick School.
Mr. Overend said: “The idea of a single integrated site is very attractive and will allow the Convention to grow even further and give flexibility over both sites.”
Former site owner Keith Graham said: “This is a landmark site of significant importance to the town, which has made a considerable contribution to local history.
“We were keen to ensure that the future development of the site would be of some benefit to the local community and, while there has been a good deal of interest from commercial development companies, Keswick Ministries with its long association with the town was considered to be the best option.”
The move has been generally welcomed by townsfolk. Allerdale borough and Keswick town councillor Tony Lywood said: “‘I very much welcome this sale to Keswick Ministries, which is an idea that I promoted for a long time, as it solves so many issues for both Keswick and the Keswick Convention.
“A single site for the Convention will hopefully produce facilities for the whole town but also release much-needed building land which we desperately need for low cost housing.
“Well done to Keith Graham, who has now secured a lasting legacy that he can be proud of, and congratulations to Keswick Ministries who have got themselves a perfect place to develop a purpose-built centre to house the yearly conventions, all on a single site.”
A Keswick Ministries spokesman stated: “We are very thankful that the town of Keswick has hosted the Convention for 140 years, and we are committed to sustain the partnership for the mutual benefit of the many guests, the growing work of the charity, and of the town itself.”
The charity has been supported by voluntary contributions for its entire history, and it is hoped that loyal support from around the country will continue for this next stage of the work. The hope is that in due course the site will host appropriate events at various times through the year.
The Cumberland Pencil Company moved to new premises at Lillyhall, Workington, in April, 2008, ending a tradition of pencil making in the Greta Bridge area since 1832.
Previously, planners had wanted to see the premises retained for industrial use.
This summer’s Keswick Convention will run for three weeks from 11th-31st July. The event provides Bible teaching for all ages, vibrant worship, and a sense of unity across generations and denominations. It caters for children of all ages and has a strong youth and young adult program.
For information about the 2015 program visit www. keswickministries.org.