The launch of the revamped Cumbria Life was a sunny affair. The terrace of the Daffodil Hotel in Grasmere was taken over for a few hours by a combination of journalists, advertisers, contributors and friends of the highly regarded magazine. It cannot be easy in these days of blogs, message boards, Facebook and Twitter to continue to deliver a high quality, interesting and informative magazine in paper format. Yet each month, Cumbria Life appears on the shelves and brings to Cumbrians, and those who share a love for the county, a selection of good-news stories about Cumbria and the people who live here.
Cumbria is a very disparate county. What I mean by that is that people from Kendal have very little in common with people from Whitehaven. Barrow and Wigton are very different places. Carlisle and Millom folk scarcely ever come together. Transport between towns can be very difficult because we have a great block of mountains and lakes in the middle of the county. Take the recent debates over the nuclear depository and you will see that different parts of the county have different priorities and different concerns. In some ways, Cumbria is a federation of communities in a way that other counties are not. Historically, too, Cumbria was split into Cumberland and Westmorland and a big chunk of Lancashire as well. Even our TV coverage is not uniform throughout the region.
So what holds the place together? What’s the glue that binds us together as a single entity? To be truthful, I’m not sure, but I have a sneaky feeling that a magazine such as Cumbria Life has a part to play.
Cumbria Life has a unique role within the county – and a unique opportunity. Of course, the premier role of the magazine has to be to entertain and to generate sales. Yet beyond this, and, perhaps, without planning or desire, the magazine has other functions that it fulfils. It has a unique role in bringing those different parts of the county together in the pages of a magazine, offering to each group a picture of what life is like for other people in the county. The role of Cumbria Life has to be, whether it likes it or not, a way of spreading understanding and acceptance between one part of the county and another. Who else fulfils this role? What other institution reaches out to all parts of the county?
The opportunity is for Cumbria Life to be the voice of communities that would otherwise be forgotten or, at least, overlooked. It needs to be the voice of the shepherd, the poet, the artisan and the gardener. It needs to represent the traveller, the walker, the runner and the cyclist. It needs to praise and to triumph our food producers, our retailers, our restaurants and our cafes. Yet, also, it needs to be the voice of our industrial heritage, the shipyard worker, the nuclear technician and the industrial chemist. It would be wrong to forget them in an effort to represent the county as a rural idyll. No one group can claim to be more uniquely Cumbrian than another. It wasn’t that long ago that the valleys of the Lake District were filled with miners and quarrymen. The pre-eminence of farming and tourism in the Lakes is a relatively recent thing as a wander through the Newlands Valley or Borrowdale will testify. An ex-steelworker from Workington is as much a Cumbrian as a Herdwick farmer.
The newly designed Cumbria Life looks fantastic. Richard and the team have done such a wonderful job on keeping everything that was great about the magazine but giving it a much needed overhaul. It appears more contemporary and more accessible than the old format. It also boasts a whole range of new columnists and it will be interesting to read their thoughts over the coming months.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the magazine develops over the coming months and years and seeing just how important Cumbria Life continues to be to the people of the county and seeing how it can enter new and different markets to sustain and to extend its role within Cumbria.
Good luck to them.