A former fishing village, Barrow’s population has largely been determined by the success of its shipyard for more than a century.
While it’s still by far the biggest employer in the town, new industries and work opportunities are likely to see the Cumbrian coast’s industrial hub thrive once again.
Previously one of the towns with the highest percentage of young people leaving in search of education and employment, we take a look at what is happening to reverse that trend.
Employment opportunities aplenty
As already alluded to, there are lots of employment opportunities in Barrow on the horizon – the shipyard’s operator BAE Systems is set to take on trainees in record numbers, and other sectors such as wind energy and nuclear technology are gaining a foothold in the town.
The shipyard is the UK’s largest, while the windfarm off the coast of Walney is the biggest in the world, and adds to the high level of technical expertise in the town, drawing more people to the region for work.
Education and culture could be key
A proposed new ‘learning quarter’ could include both a university campus and a skills hub, while several cultural initiatives have already received Government and National Lottery funding, thanks to Barrow receiving a £25m grant from the government’s Town Fund last year.
The area also stands to benefit from Morecambe’s Eden Project North on the other side of the Bay, which is slated to open in 2024, with a proposed community hub on Walney Island in Barrow.
Barrow’s housing market is unique
The housing market on the Furness Peninsula is unlike anywhere else in the North West, according to David Corrie, the director of Furness-based estate agents Corrie and Co.
“The heartbeat of Barrow is the industry, so salaries are higher compared to places such as Kendal or Lancaster, where jobs are more service-based,” he says.
“People see the average house prices in the town and automatically assume it is a very cheap place to buy – it is in line with any other town around here – but that average is skewed somewhat by the huge amount of terraced houses.
“It’s strange, but Barrow is in its own micro economic bubble, and the mortgage lenders know this and have confidence in the area. It means that we can get 95 per cent mortgages, which you wouldn’t see in most places.”
Outdoor space at affordable prices
One thing that is not unique to Barrow is the fact that there is a huge increase in house-buyers who are looking for more outdoor space.
Many have been able to save money by not having to commute or not being able to go on holiday, and larger semi-detached properties are especially sought-after, with people looking for houses with gardens and outdoor spaces.
It’s not just gardens that provide the space though – it is thought that the Borough of Barrow has a higher percentage of land covered by nature reserves than any other town in England – there is also 60km of coastline to explore, and panoramic views of the southern Lake District fells.
Mr Corrie continues: “My view is that Barrow often suffers from bad press when the truth is you have Morecambe Bay, Roanhead, and it’s a short drive to the Lake District – where else can you drive into a quiet part of a national park in half an hour, but still have a commute from home to work that is only 10 or 15 minutes?
“For where we are, I think property prices are great value.”
New developments are transforming the town
With impressive new developments underway all over the town, Barrow is very much an area on the up.
At the higher end of the market, on the edge of the desirable Hawcoat district, is the new Abbey Heights development of 142 homes – including some of the most expensive houses in Barrow.
Another new development is soon to begin on land off Wilkie Road, opposite Barrow AFC’s stadium, and the old Thorncliffe School site is another highly desirable area.
The shortage of semi-detached houses has been identified and is beginning to be rectified by developers, who expect the town to continue to grow in the years ahead.
“Barrow and Ulverston in particular have started to come to the attention of national developers, and with good reason; the location is one thing, employment is stable, and it is an area with a lot of intelligent and highly-skilled people,” says Mr Corrie.
“Lenders having so much confidence and understanding of the area is the key, and that’s why developers also want to be here. I can’t think of anywhere else in the country that has all of that.”
Opportunities for first time buyers
The Cumberland continues to offer attractive mortgages in the region, currently accepting mortgage applications for residential purchase and remortgages to up to 90 per cent loan to value.
The building society’s Barrow and Ulverston branch manager, Lyndsey Taylor, says it continues to be popular with first-time buyers, and encourages anyone thinking of buying here to seek as much advice as possible about what they can afford.
She says: “Across Barrow and the South Lakes, the housing market is quite buoyant and we’re still seeing a lot of people moving house, which is really encouraging.
“People have probably been saving money most of last year so they have probably been able to raise a deposit a bit quicker, and can maybe afford something a bit more expensive than they normally would.
“Some people now are seeing their first home as something more long-term rather than just a step on the ladder.”