No go? Not for Snows

OUTDOOR FUN: The Windmill Group
OUTDOOR FUN: The Windmill Group
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Snows Heights is 65 miles away from Blackpool as the crow flies but it’s closer to many Blackpool hearts than most of us realise.

Time was when a trip to the south Lakeland outdoor centre was a rite of passage for local school children – now parents and grandparents shiver to recall the cold baths and chilly wooden huts.

A new redevelopment scheme aims to provide a more modern way of roughing it in the wilds – with facilities more in keeping with the modern age.

An army of volunteers from the resort have just spent the weekend there – outlining the charity’s £350,000 redevelopment plans to open day visitors there yesterday.

Blackpool-founded charity Snows Heights was set up 43 years ago above Bouth as a retreat for Blackpool school kids. Founding fathers included the late Supt Gerald Richardson – who would later die from gunshot wounds after trying to arrest robbers raiding a Blackpool jewellers. He was a highly regarded resort Rotarian with a passion for youth work and a prime mover in raising the money to acquire Snows Heights.

It was registered as a charity and won widespread support from Blackpool Rotary clubs.

It became synonymous with mystery and adventure, a remote yet accessible place to build individualism – and team spirit.

But Snows Heights was of its time, when facilities could get away with being on the spartan side. Blackpool Council halted trips there in 2010 on health and safety grounds.

The building was deemed unfit. Today a group of community campaigners say the battle for Snows Height is far from over – and children are back camping under canvas there with the council’s blessing.

Fifty thousand pounds has been raised towards the three phase £350,000 redevelopment.

Contributions have come in from Blackpool Council and other resort-based companies and charities. Cuadrilla Resources – the company behind fracking on the Fylde – weighed in with a whopping £6,000 this month.

Much of the hard work on the site is down to the Windmill Youth Group, established in 1978.

The youth group, initially based at Great Marton Windmill but now at Stanley Park, is run by Stuart Sykes, a former police inspector who helped hundreds of local youngsters through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme by the time he had retired from the police in 1989. He’s now an independent volunteer with the award scheme and was awarded the MBE for youth services.

Snows Heights is at the heart of the group’s plans to expand the horizons of local kids. Former radar worker Chris Bailey, 69, a member of Palatine Rotary, got involved with the Windmill group six years ago, and says: “The Windmill group has been fantastic. The group takes 30 members a time from all walks of life up to Snows Heights. They have spent 5,000 man hours clearing the site under supervision. They go up and clear bracken, rubbish – now the Forestry Commission has a four year contract for coppicing, clearing out trees.

“Snows itself is a 14 acre site owned by the charity and I’d not seen the like of it before.

“I’ve worked with Windmill mainly doing mock interviews with these youngsters to help give them a step up. My old company supplied radar on systems around the world so I did a fair bit of travel but these kids deserve a chance to see more of the world.

“Snows Heights is a great base. The origins rest in the 60s when Supt Richardson was a great supporter.

“I’m now on the board support team as an individual. None of us get paid, we are all volunteers. We’ve had support from Bay House, Blackpool Council, Beaverbrooks and more. We’re hoping to organise another sponsored walk – 10,000 people turned out for the Gerry Richardson Walk 40 odds years ago in support of Snows.

“We need to get the whole site up and running but we’re doing it in stages – we’ve raised £50k to date and are looking to clear the site, buy the steelwork and timber, source more help in kind from local companies. Thousands of people have gone up from schools in Blackpool to Snows and we get letters and reports from people who went there decades ago. There is nowhere like it. It has worked its magic on successive generations, In a way Blackpool Council did Snows Heights a big favour when they condemned the buildings there a few years ago. The dilapidated buildings have since been pulled down by volunteers and the estate cleared – and it commands the most incredible view of South Cumbria.

“Our big hope is to get the new build – made up of pods that slot into place and are made locally – up and running so we can enrich and enhance the lives of young people for years to come.”

n To support Snows Heights call Chris on 07798 853 225 or email chrisbailey14@sky.com or stuart@windmillyouthgroup.org.uk