Keighley… As Not Seen on TV

by Jim Coulson


Things haven’t always run smoothly for Keighley, the town that was cruelly snubbed by the TV cameras when the Tour de France passed through Yorkshire in 2014. The town’s moment in the sun was missed when the coverage cut to an ad break just as the peloton reached its outskirts. Whereas many parts of the county were offered priceless positive exposure on international television, Keighley wasn’t so lucky.

The honest, hard-working folk of this conurbation on the edge of Bronte country are a hardy bunch, though. They are not fussed by the whims of out-of-town TV directors; they know that there is plenty going on in their locale that they would be shouting about shouting about if they were more inclined to make a fuss about things. But how un-Yorkshire-like would that be?

As is befitting for a district set in such stunning countryside, the residents of the area are being rightly honoured for their hard work in keeping it easy on the eye. Three local businesses were rewarded with gold awards at this year’s Yorkshire in Bloom competition and the town itself was awarded with a Silver Gilt trophy. If all that sounds impressive, it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to be proud of this little enclave at the meeting point of the Worth Valley and Airedale.

One of the big local success stories of recent years actually made its name out-of-town, but it was the dream of two men from Keighley and has now returned to the place where the seed of inspiration was sown. Richard Wilson fondly remembers trips to the town’s Milk Bar in the 1970s and from then on, he always wanted to open something a quirky café of his own. Together with Neil Senior, he came up with the concept behind The Cake’ole – a Mad Hatter-themed eatery where the motto is ‘There’s always a blue sky and a smile’!

Unfortunately for the men, who now live up the hill in Long Lee, there was no suitable venue for their grand concept in their home town at the time, so they reviews. As well as the folk of Skipton and the hordes of tourists that flood into the Gateway to the Dales on coaches, Richard and Neil found themselves serving a decent contingent of folk from back home who had made the trip especially to see what the fuss was about.


When representatives from Keighley’s Royal Arcade approached them, having had a fitting unit become available, the men jumped at the chance to being their crazy concept home. On Saturday 1st August, the Keighley branch was opened offering locally sourced ingredients for its multitude of paninis, afternoon teas, intriguingly flavoured milkshakes and piece de resistance – the six-layer rainbow cake!

At the time of writing, the Keighley Cake’ole, with its twist on vintage style, had yet to see an empty table! Expect to witness a wall of clocks, hanging birdcages, a giant lion’s head door knocker, lemonade in milk bottles and all sorts of other fascinating and exciting design effects – a far cry from Richard and Neil’s previous employment in the world of finance!

The venue has employed five people and will need to take on another member of staff just to deal with the queues of people waiting to get in. Other traders in the arcade reported huge boosts in trade as soon as The Cake’ole opened, thanks to the extra custom it brought in. Richard talks of his pride at helping to bring people into Keighley town centre, and being part of the campaign to keep them and their business there too.

There will be special events for Hallowe’en and Christmas, with The Cake’ole joining forces with the other businesses in the Royal Arcade to bring the festive spirit to the town. Details are being kept firmly under wraps for now but, if Richard and Neil are anything to do with it, you can expect something colourful, fun and downright bonkers!

The Keighley Town Centre Association is rightly proud of the impact that Cake’ole has had on the town in its first few months of business. In addition, Town Centre Manager Philip Smith points out that independent businesses are queuing up to open in the town, with Poppy Fields tea room and bake house having recently started trading in Cavendish Court. As a partner business of the Lavender Fields tearoom and gift emporium, it shows that businesses are not only opening, but flourishing too. Another venue for a glorious pot of tea and slice of cake in Keighley is the wonderfully retro Forteas tearoom. With a stunning 1940s theme throughout, this is pure vintage indulgence, which has been a fixture of the town centre since mum and daughter Janet and Chay first opened in April 2013.

Asked where the inspiration for the tearoom came from, Janet said: “I was doing bridal wear for 28 years and I started making 1940’s hats out of old bras! I started going to the 1940’s weekends in Haworth and Pickering. I grew up with the Big Band music. My mum and dad used to go ballroom dancing to the Big Band sound.” They are open Monday to Saturday between 10am and 4pm, serving tea, coffee, milkshakes, light bites, pies, pasties and soup, not to mention a fine selection of sweet treats to tempt you. There’s also a cream tea and an afternoon tea deal on offer at the
premises at 1 North Street in the town centre.

There is more good news for small businesses in Keighley thanks to Airedale Enterprise Services moving into brand new gleaming premises at the Crown Works Business Centre on Worth Way in the town. The organisation supports start-ups and existing businesses in finding funding to help them grow and offers support and training.

It is a well established part of the community, having been around for 32 years and can boast a hand in developing 3,800 businesses and helping more than 17,000 people achieve their goals during that time.

Wendy Spencer is Operations Manager for Airedale Enterprise Services and is excited about the greater opportunities for a new programme of training courses at Crown Works, some of which are free. In addition, the company will have the chance to offer entrepreneurs in Keighley more incubator offices, which provide a lowcost space that allows them to vacate their back bedrooms and grow their businesses.

It also means that they can offer a manned reception and business mentors on demand to create a truly supportive environment. Those taking advantage of the new space will benefit from free Wi-Fi and meeting room hire for those who don’t need the larger space often enough to justify shelling out on an exclusive office for their firms just yet.

AES is a designated partner of Virgin Start-Up Loans in West and North Yorkshire, so those visiting the new premises can find out more about claiming funding worth between £500 and £25,000. Included in the deal is one-to-one mentoring, remote support and face-to-face meetings to help the business move forward. There is also help with writing business plans provided as part of the service.

Funding can also be sought through AES from Bradford Council’s Kickstart campaign, the Regional Growth Fund Start and Grow initiative and the Leeds City regional LEP skills service.

One of the Keighley area’s most recognisable landmarks is the beautiful 17th-century East Riddlesden Hall. With its imposing Yorkshire stone exterior and beautiful gardens, it is always worth a visit.

East Riddlesden Hall

You can wander through the gardens, which change constantly as the seasons shift, meaning that return visits are always necessary! The peace and serenity of the various trails is in direct contrast to the Discovery Garden, where children can run around and use up that energy they seem to have in spades. They are encouraged to root around for insects, balance on logs and hide away in the Hobbit House.

They will be enthralled by the wildlife on display from the bird hide and will love making a mess in the mud pie kitchen!

Inside, you will find a fascinating insight into the history of the area and learn about what the household of a cloth merchant in the 1600s was really like. The work of local artisans and craftsmen through the years is on display for all to see as you peruse the rooms of the great hall, guided by experts who can bring the past to life through their stories of life at East Riddlesden Hall. All that can be rounded off with a delightful slice of cake from the tea-room as you digest the fascinating experiences on offer and drink a warming brew.

Throughout winter you can visit East Riddlesden Hall at the weekends, although there is a weekly Walk for Health in the extensive grounds on Tuesdays. If you are looking for the perfect, unique festive present for a loved one this year, you will want to visit the hall on the 5th and 6th of December for the Christmas Fair. A wide range of hand crafted gifts and locally sourced food is promised, with plenty to keep everyone entertained over the weekend.

The Airedale Barn is a particular well loved facility at the hall, wondrously restored and the perfect setting for private functions such as weddings.

It is available to hire and really shows off the beauty and history of this part of the world.

Leeds City College Keighley campus

Back in the town centre and the students at Leeds City College Keighley campus are well into their autumn term. The educational establishment has been working with Oakbank School and Bradford City Council to create an Industrial Centre of Excellence (ICE) in the town. It has had the input of employers, who will also offer training to students, giving them the best possible chance of making their way into highly skilled jobs in industry when they graduate. This association also helps pupils connect with businesses for work placements too.

There is increasing demand for fresh blood in the engineering and manufacturing sectors and the ICE is preparing those who come through its doors in the best possible manner. Known as the Centre of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, it boasts state of the art equipment, including industry standard Computer Numerical Controlled machinery, milling machines, lathes, 3D printing, computer aided design and all sorts of other innovative apparatus.

This mix of up-to-the-minute equipment and strong ties with local businesses means students experience real life situations on their route to becoming tomorrow’s engineers. It’s not just industry that has a healthy future in Keighley – it is also one of the first towns to sign up for the Healthy High Streets initiative, aimed at gaining support for 100 high streets around the country. Over a three-year period, there will be business expertise and resources provided to help these shopping centres, including Keighley’s, to flourish.

The founding partners were Boots, the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Santander, with EE, Exterion Media and Greggs the Baker joining in to help out more recently. These firms are pledging to address the issue of empty properties, aid accessibility and safety, help start-up businesses flourish by creating pop-up shops and impromptu markets. They hope to improve customer service and drive footfall to the main shopping thoroughfares of Keighley and beyond.

Shoppers will ultimately benefit from this support, but there are other initiatives on-going to improve training for businesses and individuals in the heart of Keighley. The Dementia Friendly Keighley initiative is looking to help traders become more aware of the illness and to make their establishments more dementia friendly for sufferers. Assistance is being provided to help businesses achieve this goal.

One company making strides to employ local people is Skipton Volkswagen, part of the Sytner Group ( and based in Cross Hills. This autumn they have already been filling vacancies and are rightly proud of their record of keeping staff at the group and promoting from within. This means that loyal customers who return year after year recognise members of staff, building a strong, trusting relationship between business and customer. For the employees, they get to know the customers and can better handle their enquiries and attend to their needs.

The group has been named one of the top five big companies to work with by the Sunday Times and you can tell why when you hear about the people who have been nurtured by this local powerhouse. Brand Manager Emma Spedding joined the group as a sales executive from a career in banking. She progressed to Business Manager in different areas of the business before becoming the Development Manager for the finance team, achieving record results in the short time she has spent in her new post.

Skipton Volkswagen prides itself on supporting the local community and reassures customers that they will be offered a smooth and speedy service. They have the access to Volkswagen Group Approved Bodyshops, meaning that they have the manufacturers’ blessing to repair Volkswagen, SEAT, Skoda and Audi vehicles – handy to know if you ever have an incident in the area. You can never have too much peace of mind when it comes to owning a car.