Monday, 25 March 2013

Easter events and a positive future

Ive been busy today ploughing through a mound of paperwork to enable Furness Abbey fellwoship to put on a summer event somewhere very special. As with everything it requires risk assessment in triplicate, plans, rules....etc. I think I have got it covered now-but we will see tomorrow! Can't say more yet...but watch this space.

Its quite exciting because we are on the brink of lots of new ideas and activities which we hope will help to raise the profile of the abbey. We will be at the Abbey Mill on Easter Sunday from 12 and we will be selling memberships, quizzes and raffle tickets. We have some wonderful prizes worth winning-so do come and see us!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Past the sell by date?

Its been a funny old week...two years! Reaching the grand old age of 55 has been quite a revealation. In my early 30s...many moons ago when we lived in Thatcher's 80s London I remember seeing a documentary about people not quite old enough to retire who had been made redundant. It seemed a bit unreal and with the arrogance of youth I secretly thought "that could never happen to me". However, I do remember some poor chap in his 50s breaking down in tears and saying it had ruined his life losing his job and he would never work again. 

Well fast forward to I am in my mid 50s and my worst nightmare has come true. I and my colleagues were made redundant in 2011 -victims of the first tranche of government cut backs. The Local Authority took the chance to axe us too-with little or no reflection whether ours was a service which should be kept. My principle feeling was anger, but as time progressed that deepened and became bitterness and sadness.

Naturally, I applied for many jobs, part time and otherwise, as well as going on the supply list. Two colleagues-one ten years my junior and one a youngster of 24 both found jobs fairly quickly-thank goodness. My other work friend and I did not-both of us in our 50s and female. We have worked together through a small new business we set up and although we have work it is providing us with incomes very much less than we are both used to. Additionally, it is not secure and we both top up with casual posts and part time bits and pieces.

So we have become part of the Tory brave new world of the "flexible and part time workforce" which they champion as a triumph and suggest that we should all be happy to have any work. We have to fight hard for any work and it feels like spinning gold from straw sometimes as we have been very creative and skillful in finding small contracts herand there. Better than being on the dole...infinitely better...but not ideal.

However, it does seem a catch 22 situation as on one hand we are being told we must work longer...and on the other we are evidently superfluous in the jobs market because of age! So tell does that work? I can see youngsters must have jobs, but actually we oldies would quite like one too! And what about the qualifications-hard earned over years, skills and experience? Do they count for nothing? Are they not useful in the employment arena? Obviously not! So its onwards with the self driven, self employed "career"-what other option is there? Can't help thinking though that our talents are being squandered and that this is a big mistake!

Friday, 1 March 2013

An appealing story

 There is some good news for Furness Abbey as identified in the above article. Work is continuing to repair and support the structure and it is necessary to save the integrity of the abbey. English Heritage have done a magnificent job over the last few years and must have spent bucket loads of cash to do so. They often come under a lot of criticism for various reasons-some possibly justified, but their efforts to preserve Furness Abbey have been amazing and entirely necessary and do them credit. 

Our poor old abbey has looked increasingly dilapidated and shabby over recent years and it has not been helped with the mess made by flooding. Hopefully, with the ongoing conservation work it will improve and return to its beautiful self. 

So why is it important to secure the future of the abbey and what problems face it in the future?

Its important because it is one of the most significant abbeys in the UK. It was the second largest and richest abbey after Fountains Abbey. It was extremely powerful and influential politically in its day and made its mark on how Furness grew and developed. It was additionally the first of the large abbeys to be targeted by Henry V111 for Dissolution-he saw its financial potential and lost no time in liquidising the assets; from the lead on the roof to the furnishings and plate and of course selling off the huge tracts of land belonging to Furness Abbey.

Aesthetically, it is breathtakingly beautiful, spiritual and inspirational. It was written about by Wordsworth and painted by Turner-what more of an accolade could it have? 

There is a school of thought that supports the gradual decline and decay of such buildings-returning it to the natural state. There are some people who believe it to be a waste of resources and time conserving such a building. However, locally, it is very important to the people of Barrow. Everyone you speak to has a story about their connection with the abbey and judging by the numbers of people who take the Green Way path up in to the valley where the abbey sits, it is still a popular place to walk to. 

However, fixing the infrastructure is not enough! Why? Visitor numbers have fallen dramatically over the years and in comparison to other local attractions it does not seem to have held its "kerb appeal". does...the biggest problem is that visitors remain outside of the fence, because as anyone who knows the abbey will tell you-you don't need to go inside to view it. Dozens of amateur...and not so amateur photographers hang over the fence at weekends when weather permits and snap happily away. So what's the  problem? Well-if you're outside, you're not paying to get in. If you're not going in no visitor number is recorded. If you aren't going in, you aren't paying. Add to this residents of Barrow who can apply for a yellow exemption card to get in free-then again-no payments. All of which means that EH are losing essential revenue to help to restore the site. Again calculate the massive revenue cut back they have suffered and you don't have to be a mathematician to see that they need help!

This is where we come in. Furness Abbey Fellowship were established to support the abbey and reverse the decline by promotion, events and improving the visitor experience. We are on the job and have a few events planned already-but we need the public's help. If everyone who reads this joined FAF, donated £1, bought a quiz, came to the Easter event at Abbey Mill, we would be on our way to improving things.

We have also launched a new large appeal to help to fund a special and secure display unit for the abbot's treasure when it returns. We initially want to raise £6,000 but are hoping to raise enough for the whole gallery and the security which is needed to protect the artefacts. This in itself will attract visitors from far and wide-just as it did in the weekend last year when it was temporarily displayed. Numbers for that weekend were an amazing 1,500. 

We are planning events and activities and want to add to the resources in the abbey to make it a pleasant and more stimulating visit. We want to buy golf umbrellas-because most of the site is outside. We aim to produce interpretation boards to show people more clearly what they are looking at. We hope to integrate activities like a Herb Trail so visitors can interact with the site. The list goes on to be honest and this is a long term task, without a quick fix. We can only do this with funding, donations and support from the public!

If you wish to contact us please email us at

or by phone - 07527 996 432 or find us on twitter and facebook