Much of the work we do here at the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is underpinned by two important questions.
What does the future mean for rural communities such as those in Upper Nidderdale? And how can we safeguard our unique local culture for posterity?
For Rob Light, these are personal questions as well as professional ones.
Rob is the newest recruit to the team, covering for Louise Brown, our Historic Nidderdale project officer, while she’s on maternity leave.
New to the Landscape Partnership he might be, but Rob’s family roots go deep into Nidderdale’s past – nine generations and counting.
Rob himself was born in Wilsill and he’s lived much of his life here, so the landscape and heritage of the dale are subjects close to his heart. He said: “We go back at least as far as the early 19th Century.
“I have ancestors who worked as lead miners, farmers and gamekeepers.
“One of my great-grandfathers was the police sergeant at Pateley when the reservoirs were being built, around the time of the First World War.
“To be involved in something that celebrates Upper Nidderdale is very exciting for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the place.”
His job with us is to kindle that same fascination in others. Besides looking after our flagship heritage sites, which we’ve covered in previous columns – Fishpond Wood, Prosperous Lead Mine, Wath Mill, and Lodge and Scar villages – Rob is overseeing various events designed to get people involved in our work.
He said: “Over the summer, there’s Nidderdale in the City, where we’ll be showcasing the Landscape Partnership with a family day out at Kirkstall Abbey.
“Then there’s the Moorlands festival, which celebrates the Nidderdale moors and their history.
“At a more local level, we’ve got volunteers surveying archaeological features on farms in the dale. And some exciting work is being done with the Moorlands Oral History Project, which is showcasing people’s memories of life in the dale over the last eighty years.”
Rob has a particular interest in this sort of word-of-mouth history, born partly of his own childhood experiences.
He said: “I grew up hearing stories about the dale during the period when Scar House Reservoir was being built.
“The stories played a big part in developing my interest in history.”
So much so that he went on to earn a doctorate in the subject.
He’s been particularly impressed by the expertise of some of the local history and archaeology groups. He said: “Some exceptional research has been carried out which has really developed our knowledge of the flagship heritage sites.”
Back living in his home dale, working in a role that perfectly matches his historical expertise with his local affiliations, Rob is feeling upbeat about Nidderdale’s future, although with a clearsighted appreciation of the challenges it faces.
He added: “Let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to find work in the area. The sense of community has inevitably declined, and the old way of life has begun to die out.
“But what that means is that the Landscape Partnership is very timely. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate aspects of the dale and its heritage which are under threat – and give them a new lease of life.’