Lake District cafe owner battles vacation rentals with town ‘buyout’ plan | Cumbria


Chinty Turnbull expects people to say she’s lost her mind as she describes her bold action plan. She wants to reclaim a Lake District honeypot town – “buy it back, brick by brick”.

“I think a lot of people think I’m crazy, yeah,” she said. “What’s that scene in Jerry Maguire when everyone says yay, great, good for you!” And they all say ‘oh my God’.

Keswick is overrun with vacation rentals, often owned by second and sometimes third owners. Walk into a real estate office and the sea of ​​”sold” signs springs up. About 80% of the city’s buyers are not local.

Campaigners say life is being sucked out of the Lake District because soon none of the people who work there will be able to afford to live there. Companies are already struggling to recruit staff.

Display of an estate agent in Keswick. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

It’s an image replicated in tourist towns across the UK, but the situation in Keswick is dire. A real estate agent said he had never experienced anything like it in his 35 years in business.

About 10 days ago, Turnbull learned that her building, where she runs an eco-café, was up for sale. The assumption is that the four apartments rented upstairs will become vacation rentals.

A sign in the Turnbull Cafe
A sign in Turnbull’s cafe. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The news prompted her to set up a campaign called Buy Back Keswick, Brick By Brick. She needs to raise £825,000 to buy the building and has already been pledged £65,000.

“When we collect the money, it will become a community building, with rent money used to restore it,” she said. “It will be one building that we will take care of and then with what is left we will move on to another building. We will find these delicate buildings and we will preserve them and make them places where local people can live.

Turnbull said there had been a lot of debate about places like Keswick being dominated by holiday rentals and action was now needed. “Holiday homes are good, but, you know, that’s enough. No more. People feel helpless. They don’t feel like they have any control. »

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It’s a hugely optimistic project, but Turnbull has been encouraged by the feedback she’s received from across the UK. “I think we can do it. People don’t usually think you can do things that make a difference, but I think we can. If 800 people invest a grand then it might work, right? It would show people that you can make things better. We want to buy one property, then another, then another and another.

“There are a lot of buildings that used to be butchers or bakers and we can get them back. It’s not just the millionaires who have control; it can be anyone if you really want to.

Going after millionaires is undeniably a tall order, however. Nick Elgey, sales manager at Hackney & Leigh estate agents in Keswick, said around 80% of his buyers were non-local. This is not a new phenomenon but the pandemic has accelerated things. “We’ve never really seen such frantic activity in such a concentrated time.”

The town of Keswick, with Derwentwater beyond
The town of Keswick, with Derwentwater beyond. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

People with money, inherited or earned, were particularly desperate to buy in and around Keswick. A four-bedroom cottage in Borrowdale once owned by filmmaker Ken Russell was bought last month within two weeks of going on the market, for more than £1.5million.

“People want to invest their money in bricks and mortar and they think the Lake District National Park is a safe haven,” Elgey said. It was a “tricky question,” he said, but the flip side was the amount of money vacation rentals brought into the local economy. At Keswick, year-round occupancy is 90 per cent, he said.

“At the end of the day, what can you do against market forces? Keswick is a beautiful place. It has a national if not international interest. People want to buy there.

Turnbull argues it’s time to do something about it. “There’s nothing wrong with people having a second home if there’s room and space for everyone,” she said. “If you want people serving coffee, cleaning vacation homes, sweeping… then they have to be able to live here.”

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