A good number of members and friends met at Orton Methodist Church on Thursday July 21st at 7.30 p.m. to hear local resident John Dunning speak about the founding and development over fifty years of the Westmorland Ltd. Motorway services and its associated enterprises.
It came about through a combination of factors: the compulsory purchase, with very modest compensation, of a good part of John’s farm in order to build the M6 motorway; the desire of the Ministry of Transport to site a service station at Tebay to be some compensation for the loss of more than 170 jobs in the Tebay area consequent upon the closure of the Tebay – Darlington railway line, with the station and engine sheds at Tebay; and the reluctance of the ‘big players’ in motorway services to commit to Tebay because they were not convinced there would be sufficient business there. These came together with John’s long-held conviction that in order for farming in upland areas to be viable in the long run, it is vital to diversify and develop parallel enterprises, to serve wider markets and bring greater employment, thus generating more income and hence prosperity locally and setting the local economy on a more stable – because broader – foundation.
John traced the story of how this had been achieved over the years, despite several quite difficult periods, thanks to some excellent partners in overall management and some excellent local talent in specific departments. Not least of these was that when approaching retirement age, John and Barbara were able to persuade their younger daughter Sarah from her work in finance in London and come home to take over the business, which she has done with great success.
Notable developments down the years have been the foundation of Rheged a mile from junction 40 on the M6 to be an introduction to the history and culture of this whole region, and a further motorway service area near Gloucester on the M5, which is run in conjunction with a Bristol charity for people with special needs, and, as at Tebay, lays great emphasis on local suppliers and local products.
Above all, John’s account showed how a person with a serious desire to improve the economic standing of his local area, rather than at first his own personal wealth, and a vision of how that might be done, has been able over nearly half a century to bring secure employment to the Tebay and Orton area, and create a motorway service area with a quality second to none in Britain, and known for its excellence across the whole network.