2021 was a year when many businesses in Cumbria gradually came back to life following the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout the year there have been ups and downs, winners and losers and many examples of the Cumbrian spirit of resilience and innovation. GILES BROWN looks back at some of the events of last year.


After muted New Year celebrations the year begins in downbeat fashion with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing another national lockdown, with people only allowed to leave home for essential purposes, such as work and exercise. Two days later the Government announces new one-off grants of up to £9,000 will be available to help hospitality and leisure businesses.

There is disappointment in Barrow as the Government confirms it will not be receiving £22m from the Future High Streets Fund intended to pay for schemes boosting the borough’s economy.

Lakes Bioscience, which plans to build a new £350m biopharmaceuticals site in Ulverston, says the factory could help the UK respond to future pandemics. Founder director Pat McIver says: “What the pandemic has taught us is that we need to grow our manufacturing capability in the UK so when something like Covid happens we are better placed to respond to it in the future.”

Gen2, one of Cumbria’s largest private training providers, launches its apprentice recruitment campaign for 2021, looking to recruit more than 500 apprentices.

Carlisle United says it has suffered a financial hit worth more than £1m despite receiving £360,000 from the Premier League bailout package.

Then foreign secretary Dominic Raab says the Government's target is to offer every adult their first Covid-19 vaccine by September, with some lockdown restrictions being eased by March.

Statistics produced annually on behalf of a partnership including Cumbria Tourism and the Lake District National Park Authority show the pandemic has cost Cumbria's visitor economy £2 billion and led employment in the sector to shrink by 38,000.


Leading climate scientist James Hansen writes to Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he has shown “contemptuous disregard" for the future of young people and nature through the Government’s failure to call in plans for a new coalmine, near Whitehaven. However, Copeland mayor Mike Starkie defends the plans and calls the comments “completely irrelevant”.

Suzanne Caldwell is appointed managing director of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, following the retirement of chief executive Rob Johnston. Suzanne is the first woman to lead the business organisation.

Criticism of plans for the new mine in West Cumbria continue, with a petition demanding an inquiry garnering over 100,000 signatures and Labour shadow business secretary Ed Miliband saying “we can’t be opening new coal mines and then claiming to be a big climate leader in our country”.

More than 100 jobs are put at risk at GSK’s plant in Ulverston following the $350m sale of one of its divisions to pharmaceuticals company Sandoz. However, Lakes BioScience is granted planning permission to start work on its site at Ulverston, tipped to create 250 jobs at the state-of-the-art factory.

The University of Cumbria signs a partnership agreement with Lancaster University to support the development of a new university campus in Barrow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils a four-step plan for ending coronavirus restrictions by June 21. Subject to conditions schools and colleges will reopen on March 8, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or two households will resume from March 29, non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality will resume on April 12 and legal limits on social contact will be lifted by June 21.


Plans are announced to create a solar energy farm in the grounds of a global motorsports business M-Sport in Dovenby, after Custom Solar Ltd, from Derbyshire, applies to Allerdale Council to build a ground-mounted solar PV system to provide power to on-site buildings.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers the Budget which was postponed from the previous autumn. It includes the extension of the furlough scheme until September and a freeze on rates of income tax, VAT and National Insurance contributions.

First Milk announces it is to plough £9m into its Lake District Creamery at Aspatria.

The dairy giant plans to install high capacity cheese blockformers as well as new water, milk, cream and whey handling processes in the fourth stage of a multi-year investment at the Aspatria site totalling around £14m since 2019.

Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) releases its Potential for Green Jobs in Cumbria report, detailing how around 9000 jobs could be created in the county over the coming 15 years. It says the jobs could be created in ‘transition period’ towards the county reaching net-zero, followed by a further 3800 in the longer term across sectors including transport, industry, retrofitting, renewable heat, renewable electricity and waste.

The chief executive of West Cumbria Mining Mark Kirkbride describes the decision by Secretary of State for Local Government Robert Jenrick to "call in" proposals for the mine as “distressing”. He says the decision appears to have been made in response to "ill-informed comments rather than complying with established policy".

The Borderlands Exclusive Growth Deal is formally signed by five local authority areas, including Cumbria. The £350m deal will see an injection of cash for key projects across Cumbria, Northumberland and southern Scotland. It aims to drive economic activity across the region and is likely to create up to 5,500 jobs.


Chocolate maker Friars, which has shops in Keswick and Ambleside, announces £850,000 expansion plans, including a new factory and distribution centre near the M6 in Penrith.

Cumbrian cinemas share around £185,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund to help them continue to survive following the disruptions wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The buzz returns to Cumbrian high streets as non-essential retailers and hospitality venues are allowed to reopen on April 12, although cafes and pubs are still only allowed to serve people outside.

Isle of Man-based company Ettyl Limited confirms it has signed agreements for the acquisition of Stobart Air and Carlisle Lake District Airport from Esken Limited, the aviation and energy infrastructure group. The airport has been struggling since travel restrictions saw planes grounded and airline Logan Air pulled out of running flights from the site.

BAE Systems launches its latest submarine, HMS Anson, from Barrow’s shipyard. The 7400 tonne nuclear-powered submarine is the fifth Astute-class submarine. It will be followed by two more boats, HMS Agamemnon and Agincourt.

Community organisation Newton Rigg Ltd launches a plan to open a new Newton Rigg College after it was announced the 125-year-old educational establishment would close in February. It proposes to start with land-based training courses, followed by the introduction of apprenticeships and the opening of a new, independent Cumbrian Newton Rigg College in 2024/25.

Cumbrian exporters reveal how they have been hit by post-Brexit rules and the pandemic, with figures from the British Chamber of Commerce showing that UK export figures are down by 41 per cent. Cumbria Chamber of Commerce managing director Suzanne Caldwell says: “We’ve heard from a number of businesses who have seen export volumes fall and are experiencing increased disruption through red tape and additional customs paperwork."


Steven and Sheila Chattaway, people back inside pubs, Nicky Gordon from Genesis, the Bus Station in Whitehaven

A growing number of farmers and landowners begin registering ‘pop-up’ campsites on the camping website pitchup.com following a change in planning rules. However, the plans cause anger among some local residents who fear the locations could be inundated with visitors, noise and litter.

Steven and Sheila Chattaway say an emotional goodbye as they leave the famous Ship Inn, on Piel Island, near Barrow, for the last time after living there for 15 years. Traditionally the landlord of the pub is crowned as the ‘King of Piel’’ in a tradition passed down through the centuries.

GDP figures show the economy shrank 1.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 and 8.7 since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the economy showed signs of recovery in March with a 2.1 per cent rise from retail spending as high streets began to reopen.

May 17 sees further relaxation in Covid-19 restrictions with indoor hospitality allowed to reopen for groups of up to six people. “I think this is the first gate that gets a lot of businesses back to normality,” says Colin Garnett, manager of Barrow Business Improvement District.

The new business-led Borderlands Economic Forum is put in place, with 10 private business representatives working to support the Borderlands Partnership Board. It is hoped they will bring commercial experience to complement public sector stakeholders.

Penrith-based Genesis Homes buys Kendal developer Russell Armer for an undisclosed sum. Genesis chief executive Nicky Gordon says the combined businesses will create a “regional housebuilder across Cumbria”.

Whitehaven’s £8.2million Bus Station development officially opens its doors to the public. The town’s former bus station building has been transformed into a flexible office space with The Peddler restaurant on the ground floor.

Tourists flock to the county as high temperatures combine with relaxed Covid-19 restrictions. Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, says: “After a really challenging time for all businesses, residents and visitors, it’s been a real treat to be able to welcome people back safely and to see so many people enjoying everything we have to offer.”


Young entrepreneur market, Carlisle rail station, John Mallinson

A host of business and education experts are appointed to lead a new trust aimed at strengthening education across the area. The South Cumbria Multi Academy Trust (SCMAT) launched by Furness College, Barrow, aims to improve education through sharing staff knowledge and expertise, high-quality teaching and the college’s world-class facilities.

More than a dozen young entrepreneurs set out their stall at Copeland’s first youth market. King Street, in Whitehaven, hosts the market which has stalls selling everything from homemade candles and crafts to cakes, cards and clothing.

The future of Carlisle Lake District Airport is again plunged into uncertainty after a deal to buy it falls through. Isle of Man based Ettyl Ltd says funding for its proposal to buy both Stobart Air and the airport has collapsed. The news comes after Ettyl alerted police to concerns about documents supplied by one possible backer for the acquisition.

Plans for a £20m transformation of Carlisle Railway Station and its surrounds move forward with the appointment of Story Contracting as contractor for work on the Northern Gateway and Eric Wright Civil Engineering on the Southern Gateway.

Details of a programme of transformational projects for Carlisle are revealed, which will be paid for by almost £20m of funding from the Government’s Town Deal Fund. “It’s been a very, very difficult time, but we’ll use this money to improve Carlisle over the long term – and as a springboard for coming out of covid,” said Carlisle City Council leader John Mallinson.

Storage and information management services company Iron Mountain Incorporated expands the scale of its facilities for work with Sellafield Ltd by creating new offices at Hensingham Business Park. It also increases its workforce from 36 to 61 staff, including four apprentices.


Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster appoints Dianne Richardson as its first chief executive. She says: “The BECBC team are wonderful individuals, collectively they are a force for good. I’ll be working with them to support our close to 300 members as everyone emerges from the pandemic and ensuring that we deliver what our members need and want from us.”

The parent company of Cumbrian institution Eddie Stobart announces that a new company will take over the brand. Culina Group has announced an agreement to take over GreenWhiteStar Acquisitions, which owns Eddie Stobart, which has bases at Carlisle Airport and a depot at Lillyhall.

The staffing crisis begins to bite in Cumbria with businesses reporting increasing challenges in finding employees. One business, Grasmere Gingerbread, says it is offering prospective employees benefits including subsidised travel, higher hourly rates of pay, cash bonuses, health insurance, free parking, an extra day’s pay on birthdays and discounts on shopping and leisure activities in Cumbria.

England are beaten by Italy in the Euro2020 final at Wembley. Despite the disappointment the tournament proves lucrative for Cumbria’s publicans as customers visit their local to watch the action over the summer.

On July 19 - dubbed ‘freedom day’ - the final stage of Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in England, allowing nightclubs to re-open and abolishing social distancing rules, while the wearing of face coverings is no longer required by law. However, many Cumbrian businesses choose to keep measures in place.

John Maddison is seconded from global consultancy Jacobs to be programme director of the Industrial Solutions Hub, based in Cleator Moor. Developed by Copeland Borough Council the hub is intended to be a place where businesses can develop capabilities with Sellafield Ltd, which can also be commercialised and sold elsewhere in the UK and overseas and beyond the nuclear industry.

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce warns the ‘pingdemic’, in which people who have come into contact with someone with Covid-19 are told to isolate by the NHS track and trace apps, is causing major concerns for business. Steven Stanwix, co-owner of Stanwix Holiday Park, in Silloth, says: "We don't know who's going to get pinged, who's going to be able to come in and we're operating with a very small number of staff anyway because there's no one applying for jobs.”

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick approves plans for two new unitary councils in Cumbria. An east unitary council will cover Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland, and a west unitary council will include Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland.


Well-known Cumbrian chef Kevin Tickle opens a new venture, Heft, in High Newton, near Grange-over-Sands. The business is just three miles down the road from where Kevin made his name during the eight years he worked at Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume. He then went on to be head chef at Forest Side in Grasmere, which was awarded a Michelin star within its first year.

Farmers are reunited for the first time in nearly 18 months as hundreds head to Carlisle’s Borderway Mart for one of the country’s most premier sheep sales. With lockdown restrictions fully lifted, farmers from across the UK turn out in force for the annual Pedigree Beltex Sheep show and sale.

A survey by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce reveals more than fifty-five per cent of respondents have suffered due to members of staff having to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Test and Trace App.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison chairs a meeting of key officials including Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd chief executive Tom Samson and directors Alan Woods and Alastair Evans, in Whitehaven, to make the case for the district hosting new small modular reactors to be built in the UK.


The Institute of Directors appoints one of the region’s leading tourism and hospitality directors to chair its Cumbria branch. Jen Cormack, sales and marketing director at Windermere Lake Cruises, joins as the institute ramps up its support to help business recover from the pandemic.

The inquiry into West Cumbria Mining’s application for a new coal mine hears views from MPs on both sides of the argument on its opening day. Planning inspector Stephen Normington is set to hear evidence over the following weeks, with the hearing concluding at the end of the month.

The Eden Project submits a planning application for Eden Project North in Morecambe. The application is the latest milestone for the project and follows years of development work by Eden and its partners and hundreds of hours of formal and informal community consultation.

Lake District Hotels says it has recorded the highest levels of occupancy in its history over the summer. Family-owned business, which runs six venues in the district, recorded an average occupancy of 94 per cent, with some hotels up to 98 per cent full in the months of July and August.

NR Training, a body developed to continue offering education following the closure of Newton Rigg College, opens a new School of Horticulture at Lowther Castle and Gardens.

BAE Systems boss Steve Timms welcomes the awarding of an £85 million contract to Barrow’s shipyard to support early design and concept work on the Royal Navy's next generation of submarines. The contract will enable the company's submarines business to progress the early stages of a programme to deliver a replacement for the Astute class.


Thomas Armstrong is announced as the principle design and build contractor for The Edge, a new coastal activities centre to be built in Whitehaven harbour. The building will incorporate accommodation and event space and enable people to enjoy land and water-based activities. It is due for completion in December 2022.

Work to secure £25m in Government funding for seven projects in Barrow enter their final stage.

The town is in line to secure the maximum award from the Government’s £3.6 billion Town Deal fund for seven ambitious schemes. The projects include the creation of a new university campus in the centre of Barrow and the development of hubs where families can access support throughout their lives.

The Moorside site, on land adjacent to Sellafield, is announced as one of five locations under consideration to accommodate a new nuclear fusion reactor, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production.

Cumbria Tourism’s Gill Haigh warns many businesses are still in "survival mode" and calls for the Government to permanently lower the 12.5 per cent VAT rate to help "protect jobs" and "safeguard businesses" in Cumbria.

Historic Keswick cinema the Alhambra reports it has been "completely rammed" since reopening. The 108-year-old cinema has had a new screen installed and has been completely restored after months of work by contractors and a "volunteer army".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak presents his autumn statement, designed to help the UK emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes a £150bn increase in departmental spending, an increase in the National Living Wage from £8.91 to £9.50, a cut in the Universal Credit taper rate from 63 per cent to 55 per cent and the biggest cut to business rates in over 30 years.


Advanced technology company Createc, based at Derwent Mills, in Cockermouth, launches a new Japanese business East-Asia GK, which will offer enhanced support to the company’s customers and partners in the country, as well as expansion opportunities throughout East Asia.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison welcomes the announcement that Rolls Royce SMR will invest £195 million of private funding across three years in small modular reactors, with a further £210 million pledged from the Government. She says she will continue to push for Copeland to be the location for the new technology.

Plans are announced for a campus development in Cleator Moor that will include a central hub building which houses research, education and community facilities. The Cleator Moor Innovation Quarter is tipped to be built on land which includes the Leconfield Industrial Estate and land to the north and east of it. The proposals follow Copeland Council’s purchase of the industrial estate in January.

The Government tightens up some rules around coronavirus after the discovery of the new Omicron strain of the virus in South Africa. A number of African countries are placed on the UK ‘red list’ for travel and all international arrivals entering England must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. It is also announced that face coverings will become compulsory on public transport and in shops.

Large areas of Cumbria struggle to get their power back following widespread disruption caused by high winds as a result of Storm Arwen.


University of Cumbria launches a public consultation on its proposed new campus for the centre of Carlisle. Plans for the Citadel Campus include the creation of publicly accessible amenity space and new facilities such as a multi-purpose 200-seater lecture theatre, café, exhibition space and a business interaction centre as well as access to the Grade I-listed Citadel buildings.

Electricity North West says it has restored power to more than 115,000 properties affected by Storm Arwen. Steph Trubshaw, Incident Manager, says: “We’re working flat out to restore power to every last property.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announces new rules requiring travellers to the UK to take a pre-departure Covid test, as part of the reaction to the new Omicron variant of the disease. However, the Government also assures people there is no need to call off their Christmas party plans.

Boris Johnson announces new Plan B rules for England that will see masks become compulsory in all indoor public places, people advised to work from home, 1 million vaccinations a day and a requirement for Covid passports in order to enter nightclubs and other large venues - all to avoid a new year lockdown