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Recession Road: Leeming Bar

Phil Coomes | 09:58 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009

This post is from our Recession Road series, part of our special report on the global downturn.

Leeming Bar Cafe

We've reached day three of our road trip, and thanks to all those who have been getting in touch and contributing to the Flickr group. Not to mention all the people who have taken time out to speak to us as we accost them without warning.

Map showing our route on day threeA reminder: the blog, for this week, is themed on the recession. It's not scientific, we're just using this route between London and Edinburgh to try to get a feel for how people are faring. Inspired by a similar trip done in the 80s by documentary photographer Paul Graham, Phil is also endeavouring to get plenty of interesting pics en route for your perusal.

Last night we stopped at Leeming Bar Services in North Yorkshire. It's one of a dwindling number of independently-owned service areas on the A1. Owner Carl Les - also a local Conservative councillor - inherited the family business in 1988 and is experiencing his second recession since taking over.

They started to notice a dip last year, but put it down to the appalling summer weather and high fuel prices.

"This year we started to see a downturn early on in the overnight accommodation. We weren't getting as many sales reps. We opened a lorry park last year, but we haven't been getting the numbers we expected. It might be that there are less sales and therefore fewer goods are being moved around on the roads," he says.

They had to make one redundancy last year, but other than that they have been saving money by holding back on filling vacant jobs. Usual summer staffing levels of 65 have dropped to about 50 this year.

Employees of the business - which includes a hotel/restaurant, café, shop, petrol station and truck stop - have also been giving the option of reducing their hours, and some have taken it up.

Other factors have been at play too, but overall Mr Les says takings are down about 20% compared with two years ago.

Carl LesOne major difference he has noticed since the downturn of the 1990s is that the banks are now less forthcoming about helping businesses survive or expand, and are "more interesting in maintaining their [own] balance sheets", he says.

It's not only Mr Les's second recession, but it's also the second time the family has faced major repercussions from big road-building projects on the A1. In the 1960s his parents had to abandon their local village café when a bypass was constructed, and moved to the location they have now at Leeming Bar.

Now the business is locked in a row with the Highways Agency, who are building a new motorway at the other side of the A1 and who want the services to move to a location five miles away. It's been a familiar tale for businesses on this route as the road changes and improves. Mr Les has already spent £100,000 on the planning application they have submitted to remain where they are, and the issue is scheduled to go to a public inquiry in May.

You can read an explanation of our Recession Road series here. Words: Paula Dear; Images: Phil Coomes.

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