Lake District walks for 'white middle classes' rather than ethnic minorities win a reprieve

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The thermos-carrying classes can relax. Free guided walks of the Lake District, which had been facing cancellation because users were too "white, middle-aged and middle class", were given a reprieve yesterday.

The thermos-carrying classes can relax. Free guided walks of the Lake District, which had been facing cancellation because users were too "white, middle-aged and middle class", were given a reprieve yesterday.

The tours of the park by volunteers were due to be abolished with a saving of £32,000 from an annual budget of £9m after its governing body complained they were dominated by the wrong type of visitor.

Managers of the park, which attracts 14 million people a year, said money used to meet guide expenses was needed to meet government guidelines on attracting minority groups.

But amid an outcry from everyone from hoteliers to disability activists, the Lake District National Park Authority postponed a decision yesterday on carrying out the plan.

Mick Casey, a spokesman for the authority, said: "Everybody felt there was such a lot on the agenda and it has created a lot of interest, lots of coverage in the media, that they needed a special meeting just on that issue."

A full session of the authority will be held next month to decide the tours' future.

The 300 guides, recruited from local volunteers including teachers, architects and engineers, conduct around 470 events a year, ranging from short treks to day-long explorations. Lectures and slide shows are also given on the history of the park and its geography. But an audit of park activities found the 4,000 people who take part are mainly middle-class.

Speaking before the postponement, Mr Casey said: "The Government wants us to concentrate on people who don't come to the Lake District - young people, disabled people and ethnic minorities. So what the authority is saying is we need to look at how we conduct our business and appeal to these people."

Elizabeth Barraclough, 71, mayor of the Cumbrian town of Keswick and a volunteer, said: "Volunteer rangers are quite prepared to help them do whatever they need to appeal to young people, disabled and ethnic minorities.

"But people go on the walks because they choose to. I don't think that you can, or should, force people to come."

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