The man with a plan…

The man with a plan…

As we are about to head into Winter which will bring along the inevitable dark nights, it won’t be all dark and gloomy, not in Whitehaven.

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Thanks to The Man with the Plan – Harbour Commissioner Chief Exec – John Baker. Things will certainly be brighter now that the Harbour Lights have been installed and turned on, and with work taking place on the Lighthouses, the harbourside will certainly look spectacular and make for some cracking photographs, day or night.

John, who took office in January certainly had his work cut out, the Harbour Commissioners generate a lot of their income from the many car parks in Whitehaven, saw their business decimated thanks to Lockdown.

However, pockets of funding became available and John was first in the queue to take advantage and put those funds to work, much to the delight of everyone in Whitehaven.

As well as Lottery Funding, which made the re-opening of The Rum Story possible, Sellafield Ltd also stepped up to the plate and made funding available to refurbish both Lighthouses. 

Gary Mckeating Head of Development and Community said “I can’t wait to see an iconic part of Whitehaven looking fresh. Investment in our beautiful harbour is brilliant to see. Well done all involved”

On the reopening of The Rum Story, John says “ It’s been brilliant, we are seeing three times the number we were getting before the closure and people are flooding in now.

We have a lot of tourists coming through and also a lot of locals re-engaging.”

What improvements have you made since taking on the role?

“Improvements, quite a few so far, we managed to get the lottery grant which enabled us to open The Rum Story which was really important. It was crucial for us and the town.

We’ve managed to get the festival lights back up and running on the harbour walls, thanks to sponsorship and support from The Town Council and United Utilities.

We secured funding to restore the lighthouses which has been a real positive for everyone. 

I think working partnerships with the likes of the Rotary Club and the Town Council have been amazing and the improved look and feel of the Harbour is a great start. 

We have tidied up the Crows Nest, varnished all the benches ( these look awesome) and the floral displays around the harbour brighten up the whole area.

We haven’t got The Wave Lights back on Yet, but we’ve made a start and they’ve been washed, cleaned and already look better. The next step is to get the Wave Lights Back On!!!!!”

Photo by Brian Sherwen

(WOW! Now that is something that would be fantastic. In this day and age where everything is shared on social media, this would be one of the best marketing tools for Whitehaven, full-stop.

If I grab one leg and John grabs the other, I’m sure we can turn Sellafield Santa – Gary Mckeating – upside down and shake some more shekels from those pockets…) 

John continues, “ Other things that we have managed to secure and do is see the return of the Continental Market to Whitehaven and it is returning again in September.

Events are taking off at the Rum Story again and we have managed to reopen our shop seven days a week. The whole team have been fantastic. So, so far we’ve done quite a bit”

So what’s in the pipeline?

“Further betterment of the experience around the harbour, that’s key for us, Lighting up the wave and Lighting up the Crows Nest.

We are working on an events programme around the harbour, so there will be an event every weekend in Spring and Summer 22. 

And we want to create bigger events around the harbour right through that core Summer period.

That’s the real key for us, to create a buzz and a great feel, around the harbour.

Also, The Edge Activity Centre should be completed next year and getting that harbour in mint condition.”

Photo by David Ellis

Up to date what’s your favourite achievement?

“It has to be the Light Houses, when I came into this job there was a lot of talk and a lot of criticism over the situation. For many people, they are a focal point and Beacons for the town. 

Photo by Gary Mckeating

Being able to get the funding in place and get the project up and running will make a significant difference to the town – which is what we are all about, regenerating the town, working with the town and making sure the Harbour is seen as part of the town and vice versa is really important.” 

Your background?

“I spent the last 30 years in the horse racing world. I started out editing the official jockey club Form book, a weekly publication then moved onto different things.

From 2003- 2010 I was at Carlisle Racecourse, then went on to become a Group Operations Director then went to Aintree for seven-years as Regional Director North West.

The highlight of your time at Aintree?

“Well, my first grand national was the 2013 race.

The year before saw two deaths and the year before that there were two deaths.

There was a lot of pressure on for the race to be cancelled.

Things had to change and rightly so, so we made significant changes to the racecourse and when all 40 horses jumped over Beeches Brook and all forty horses cleared it, there was a massive roar from the crowds, that was pretty special” 

You haven’t got the roaring crowds here, how does it compare?

“I think the same principles apply actually – at Aintree it was important to connect with the local community – we put in place the Aintree Community Programme. 

It was the people’s race, it was their race, so we set about communicating that back to the people and we wanted them to be a part of that, I see this as very much the same.

The Harbour isn’t ours, it’s everybody’s. 

The town has at a point been under pressure – downtrodden and down beaten.

This is a massive opportunity to grow and morph into something really special.

So there I see the similarities, we can engage with the community and help this community achieve its full potential”

So are you staying then or what?

“Staying at Whitehaven? Absolutely, I’m really excited about the possibilities that can be achieved within the town. We have lots of things in the pipeline, and feeling that buzz of the town and helping to create a thriving coastal town is exactly what we can achieve over the next 5 years.

I’m here for the foreseeable, I’m at that stage in my life and career where I want to make a difference”

Internal Lighthouse Pictures by Gary Mckeating –

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