KESWICK MINISTRIES have denied claims that there is a “feud” between them and residents of the Cumbrian town about the impact that the annual Keswick Convention has on businesses and tourism in the area.
Residents have complained that the 15,000 Christians flocking to the small market town every year take up valuable hotel and parking spaces during peak holiday season — but do not spend money in the shops and pubs.
Concern escalated this week after Keswick Ministries announced that all three weeks of the 2018 Convention (the 2017 Convention ended last Friday) would be held during the Cumbrian school holidays. Previously, one of the weeks had been held outside of these dates.
The announcement sparked a petition from residents calling for the whole Convention to be held at another time. By the time the Church Times went to press on Wednesday, 2000 people had signed it. “Keswick is said to be the adventure capital of England and it is essentially closing its doors to the outside world while the convention is happening,” it reads. “Many businesses are reporting losses of up to 90 per cent in what should be peak season.”
A spokeswoman for Keswick Ministries, Jutta Devenish, defended the decision on Wednesday: “The dates were set on the same principles as we have always done: looking at the school holidays across the country to see when most people are likely to come. We do not register for our event, nor do we charge, so we estimate how many people will come on this basis.”
None the less, Keswick Ministries had been talking to members of the community and had invited a cross-section of businesses to a roundtable on 6 September, she said. “We want to hear from them how the change of dates impacts their business, but of course we also understand there is a wider concern of how the Convention itself impacts business.
“We do also realise that some of the people who are expressing concern own businesses such as licenced pubs which Conventions might not use as much as other tourists.”
The creator of the petition, Stephen Cammack of the community group Keswick Together Businesses and Residents, wrote that the Convention had become a “controlling event” in the town, which falsely represented the community by including Keswick in its title.
A signatory, Ian Loosemore, commented this week: “The convention is already too big, goes on too long, and disrupts life in the town excessively due to insensitive management by the organisers. They should be forced to scale back the event.”
Keswick Ministries was not offended by the townspeople’s comments, Ms Devenish said. “We know that people have a strong point of view but we are not having an argument. Our response is that we hear you and would like to talk to you to see what we can do to improve things.
“We are continuing a conversation in the town — we have been there for 142 years, so we consider ourselves part of the community. There are businesses and individuals who enjoy having us there and welcome the Convention – and there are others who do not, as with any event.”
The Keswick Convention was founded in 1875 at a prayer meeting in a tent on the lawn of St John’s vicarage there.
“As a charity and Christian organisation, we are keen to be good neighbours to the town,” Ms Devenish said. “There needs to be a mutual ongoing conversation about how we can do this and how the town makes itself available to the Christians, including disabled people, for whom the Convention is their sole holiday. It is their time away to spend in fellowship in a beautiful region.”
The tourism manager for Keswick, Vanessa Metcalfe, agreed: “Keswick Tourism Association have always had a good relationship with the Keswick Ministries and we are working closely with them and the Town Council to resolve the issues that have been raised. We strongly believe that by opening clear channels of communication between the Convention and the town’s businesses, a common ground can be found.”
The Town Clerk, Lynda Walker, said that Keswick Council would be agreeing its response to the petition at a meeting on 17 August. “The Council has no part in organising the Keswick Convention but does seek to communicate with the organisers, along with others, to minimise any potential issues arising from the increase in the number of people in the town for the three-week period.”