When it comes to hospitality or tourism, I would not be surprised to find that most people do not give even a second thought to exploring for themselves the delights offered by my constituency.
After all, how could an area once renowned for steel and coal mining be part of the hospitality business? Well, my advice would be to look again because the beautiful countryside offered by this small corner of the Pennines has emerged from the shadow of the industries which once dominated the area.
Far from being a smoke stacked, archetypal part of the north, Penistone and Stocksbridge is characterised by green rolling hills, with around a third of it sitting in the Peak District National Park, making the area an ideal base for walking and cycling, with the former building on the reputation of Sheffield as the walking capital of Britain.
To the surprise of many in 2014, the Tour De France decided its grand depart would start in Leeds and finish in Sheffield. Well, it was a surprise to all those who do not know South Yorkshire.
Those who do, realised just how special our contribution to the race would be. The Tour de France left both an economic and a sporting legacy for my constituency. It is estimated that the event brought in some £100 million to Yorkshire, with many small businesses reporting an increase in sales. That was especially so in the hospitality sector, which saw accommodation quickly booked up, while pubs and restaurants enjoyed increases in business as tens of thousands descended on the small town and villages in the area to be part of the race. My constituency was a grateful beneficiary from this boost to the local economy.
What was priceless was the wall-to-wall television coverage that brought the area to the attention of a worldwide audience. While locals laughed at commentators desperately trying to pronounce “Oughtibridge” as riders climbed yet another hill, we were, nevertheless, aware that television coverage of the race put the village on the map and the world discovered our great countryside.
Since then, the annual Tour De Yorkshire has twice visited the area and, indeed, last year the race finished in the town of Stocksbridge. On that occasion, we saw some 3,000 amateur riders from all over the country take to the road in the annual sportive event, with thousands lining the route, turning the streets yellow. .
It is estimated that, as a result of those events, accommodation spend in Yorkshire has increased by 6.5 per cent year-on-year, while non-accommodation items, such as food and drink, souvenirs and transport, are up by some 9 per cent.
That is, however, only part of the story because the exposure that those cycling events have brought to the area is helping to transform hospitality, bringing visitors from far and wide to see other attractions throughout the year.
So, for instance, the ancestral home of the Earl of Wharncliffe, ironically, in typical south Yorkshire fashion, is now owned by the trade unions and offers weddings and weekend stays in an idyllic country house setting. Cannon Hall, nestling in the heart of the constituency and once the home of the Spencer-Stanhopes, sits alongside Cannon Hall Farm and, together, they help Barnsley attract an impressive 1.2 million visitors a year. The Farm, which sits in the grounds of the stately home, is going from strength-to-strength and is now an awarding winning venture and the focus of Channel 5’s “Springtime on the Farm”.
All in all, north Sheffield and western Barnsley is doing its bit to build its hospitality sector and, in so doing, extend its contribution to the UK economy. We still make things in our area, but we know that our newly discovered potential for leisure and tourism is a source of future economic strength for us. With the right support from Government, we could do much more and, in doing so, not just build on our economic contribution to the country, but also our contribution to the country’s health and well-being.