A derelict pub brought back to life in the Crake Valley is just the first step in creating an ‘utopian business park’ in the area, according to Grizedale Art’s Adam Sutherland.

He has been working with the arts organisation for more than two decades persuading rural areas to adopt different business models and now that focus is on the Farmer’s Arms in Lowick Green which they purchased, together with its six acres in 2021 for £420,000+VAT. The 10-year business plan is to create a successful pub/hotel while running creative workshops and helping new entrepreneurs set up their own businesses on site.

Last year the Farmer’s Arms had around 350,000 visitors bringing in a turnover of £200,000. This year they hope to increase that to £250-£300,000 through a series of residential courses, talks programme and fairs and festivals attracting 450,000 visitors.

Director Adam Sutherland, recently awarded an MBE, says it’s about creating a different business ethos which will then permeate down the Crake Valley, boosting the culture and economy of the 15-mile stretch from Coniston to Greenodd and improving the life of its 2,000 inhabitants.

“It’s that idea of a collective economy, working together and in their own fields with a supportive community around them. That’s one of the big ideas for the pub, to diversify. What it does, how it works and to do that by developing businesses in partnership with people. The economic model is really important to the whole ambition of why we were interested in the project. The big picture is the idea that this is the gateway to the rest of the valley,” he says.

The pub had been closed for more than 18 months when a public meeting was held in 2019 to which Grizedale Arts was invited. “There was not a consensus for the way forward,” says Adam, who was asked to draw up a vision for how the building could work. During lockdown they got a £8,000 grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund to undertake a viability study and then went on to purchase the pub. With community support they received £312,500 in community loan stock investment at a rate of 0%-3% interest. They also received a social investment loan of 300,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund who remain closely associated with the project’s development.

They officially took it over on 31 March 2021 and one of the first things they had to do was buy a front door. “We didn’t need to be handed a key as there wasn’t a door,” remembers Adam. “The building was awash with water, we had our head in our hands….it was a helluva mess. The idea was never to do a makeover, it was always about making the best of what we have here. The philosophy is to make the most of what is to hand, a sort of farm philosophy.”

With the help of volunteers, including locals, investors and tourists, the first job was to create the workshops so they had a place to start fixing up the building which needed plumbing, new electrics and stripping throughout. They auctioned a lot of the reproduction furniture and pictures; now artworks by renowned artists Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash - from earlier Grizedale Arts projects - decorate the walls.

The project is also helping start-up businesses, including a newly appointed gardener who has been offered land, support and advice. The charity pays them two days a week and the rest of the time they work on developing their own businesses. Adam says: “Ideally, there’s a crossover there. We want them to supply food to the pub but we will also buy from them too. We offer the infrastructure, support and some of the sales and then it’s up to them to create a viable business.”

One success story is the pub potter who made the cups and saucers for the Farmer’s Arms, teaches there and also exhibits and works elsewhere. In the next two years they hope to have helped create three or four new businesses. They also ‘open’ on Mondays and Tuesdays as a Warm Hub and a place to work.

“We are committed to the long term, we do not want to take over but we do want to help it get to the stage where it’s self-supporting and it changes the model. My thinking is around reinventing what a pub is, reinventing what a village hall is …this is the gateway to the valley and sets the basis for reinvention of the whole valley. How do we reinvent the relationship with tourism for example? Nobody is benefitting from the enormous numbers of camper vans in the last three years and the significant increase in mountain biking. It’s trying to shake that notion of competition and replace it with an idea of collaboration as a way of taking slightly more control over your work, who you are targeting and what the future might look like. Looking for stability and to some extent a rebuilding of community.”

Rural culture is something which has interested Adam for decades. “I have a strong belief in rural areas as a creative place, rich and culturally diverse which is not how most people think about rural areas…most people see it’s a beautiful place to visit. End of story. The rural tends to perceive itself as a receiving house. I am interested in turning it round so the rural becomes a dynamic place of invention and consequently becomes more attractive to people who want to be where things are happening.” He refers back to the Victorian era of writers Ruskin and Wordsworth when the Lakes became a hotbed of social change and place of reinvention. “I have this idea of the rural being a great engine of creativity.”

Before the dreams can be realised, there are day-to-day issues like staffing to sort out. They employ 20 people but like most hospitality businesses at the moment they struggle for staff; the workers they do have are mostly artists who are offered accommodation on site for the first three months. Their chef is a filmmaker and part time chef, their building manager is a designer and Adam himself is a ceramicist who cooks at the pub two days a week. “My role will ideally diminish stage by stage as we get more staff,” says Adam. “At Grizedale we try to have practical skills, we want a sense of reality. We want art as something completely ordinary, art as an action that’s the role for art, as a connecting tissue.”


Parts of the building were probably set up by the Furness Abbey monks but it was in the 1940s when two antique dealers took it over that its fortunes really changed. They went from selling beer to extending it to create a hotel, complete with ballroom and amazing art collection. Reputedly it included pieces by Gainsborough and Constable and in the 1960s the collection was insured for £100,000. It was then taken over by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, the bar restaurant was extended in the 1980s and despite some strong trading periods and change of ownerships, gradually fell into disrepair.