I’m a life member of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) and have followed the fate of the hostels sold off by the organisation for some years now. Back in 2006 I wrote about how charities and development trusts had stepped in to save hostels following a devastating round of closures, which saw one seventh of the network sold off by the YHA.
Almost five years on and another round of sell-offs has been proposed. So I revisited one of the hostels I covered in 2006 to see how it was doing under new ownership. I found Wooler youth hostel in Northumberland to be thriving under the management of Glendale Gateway Trust, a social enterprise. In the article for the Guardian’s Social Enterprise Network, I also covered how the success of Wooler has inspired other social enterprises in Northumberland to open brand new hostels.
But unfortunately, due to lack of space I was not able to write about some other hostel heroes that I interviewed during my research. Joyce and Colin Taylor bought Byrness hostel in 2006 and have run it ever since. In doing so, they helped to keep the famous long distance walk, the Pennine Way, affordable to walkers on a budget. But they have also provided useful services for locals including a shop – the only one for miles.
Speaking to Joyce and Colin, I realised they were social entrepreneurs – even though they didn’t know it themselves. While they operate the hostel as a private concern, any profits are invested in the hostel and stays within the community. They work long hours for little reward because of a love for their community and long-distance walking.