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YHA Keswick – YHA’s 90th birthday special

YHA Keswick 1933 to present

5th March 1932. YHA’s National Committee was discussing an early idea: demonstration hostels to be scattered around England and Wales as best examples of design and provision, to promote YHA’s high standards. The Lakeland region was to lease the Park Temperance Family and Commercial Hotel on the south bank of the River Greta and turn it into Keswick Youth Hostel. It opened for members on 12th April 1933.

Keswick Youth Hostel became an instant success. In 1934, it was able to avoid a loss by experimenting with meals and increasing 42 beds to 80. By 1935, YHA Keswick had become the busiest hostel in the country, a position held for several years.

YHA Keswick exterior old photograph

YHA Keswick in 1935 (YHA Archive)

In 1937, when Mr and Mrs Booth came to run the hostel, Keswick Youth Hostel remained in the lead and was granted an extra five years’ lease. The 5000 annual overnights of the first year were soon exceeded, with 12000 staying there in 1938. YHA recognised the importance of securing the hostel, with confidence it would continue to grow. When the lease ran out in 1943, the Lakes Regional Group purchased the property for £4094. It was passed to the YHA Trust on 30th September 1943.

By the 1950s, the Regional Council considered building a 200-bed property out of the established Keswick hostel and the adjoining Pavilion. The huge cost of £18000 for the development led both to the scrapping of the plan and the opening of Derwentwater Youth Hostel.

In 1975, finding a replacement for Keswick Youth Hostel was a main priority. In 1976, YHA purchased a cottage situated just right of the hostel. YHA was able to purchase a second cottage a couple years later. In 1983, overall facility improvements began to upgrade the hostel from standard to superior. The hostel reopened in 1986 and remained continuously successful.

Fast forward a few years to 2005, YHA Keswick had major refurbishments costing a mighty sum but the money was kindly donated from Mr Graham Pink. He supported a new scheme to refurbish the hostel, aided further by a bequest from Lancastrian hosteller Norman Watson and funds from Rural Regeneration Cumbria and Cumbria Vision.

“A rundown youth hostel in Cumbria is £250,000 richer after a donation from a businessman who spent some of his happiest times as a child there. Retired Manchester schoolteacher Dr Graham Pink has given the cash to help fund a £550,000 refurbishment project at the Keswick hostel. Dr Pink said he wanted youngsters of today to enjoy youth hostels in the way he once had. The Youth Hostels Association said it was ‘immensely grateful’ for the gift. Dr Pink said: ‘As a youngster, some of my happiest times were spent in youth hostels and I’m delighted to be able to help to give today’s youngsters the same opportunity. – BBC

During the refurbishment, extra private rooms were added, and all bed and bathroom facilities improved. The ground floor was considerably altered. The hostel kitchen, formerly to the right of the entrance hall with a store behind it, was moved to the back of the dining room. The dining room itself was transformed into the Riverside Restaurant and Café, available to the public during the day.

Storm Desmond left a trail of devastation in the Lake District in December 2015. The River Greta rose to extreme river levels following heavy rainfall and YHA Keswick began to flood. An emergency agreement with the insurers allowed YHA to reopen temporarily from the first floor upwards, via a temporary walkway and entrance into a former fire escape door to the rear. Self-catering facilities were already located on the first floor, and an emergency reception was set up. These arrangements existed from early 2016 until March 2017, when the hostel could reopen in full.

YHA Keswick is still as popular as it was all those years ago. It certainly is the perfect base for exploring the Lake District and the magical fells that the Lake District consists of.

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Written by Jo Avery

Jo works in YHA's communications team, writing about travel and adventures for all. She loves curling up with a good book and a large mug of tea, ambling through wheat fields in Derbyshire with her family and dog and holidaying beside the seaside.

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