RESIDENTS of a Wensleydale town are hoping to revitalise the local economy by converting an auction mart into an education centre.

The centre, planned for Hawes, will be designed to help visitors understand the role that farming plays in the national park, its importance to the health of the local economy, and its relevance to the environment.

The regional development agency Yorkshire Forward has linked up with Barclays Bank to fund a feasibility study. The results will be announced in March.

The response has already been positive, with the Upper Wensleydale Business and Tourism Association, the Community Investment Prospectus Group, Rejuvenate Wensleydale and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority agreeing to work in partnership to take the project forward.

"We wanted to take things gently to start with, which is one reason why we haven't said very much until now, but the response this week has been so much more positive than we had hoped," said Angela LeGrice, Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership development manager.

"What we have come to realise over time is that if we want help from the major funding agencies, then we have to pull together and that is what we have spent the past few months working on."

The town already boasts the Dales Countryside Museum, the Wensleydale Creamery visitor centre, the Ropemakers and a host of cafes, tearooms, pubs and hotels.

However, it is hoped that any new facilities at the auction mart will complement rather than compete with existing businesses.

"We don't want to put anyone out of business; the aim is to bring more people into Hawes," said Ms LeGrice.

The £100,000 grant will pay for a business plan to be compiled by consultants Measurement for Management Decisions, which will be used as the basis for a bid for further grant aid from Brussels, as well as Yorkshire Forward.

The report should be finished by March, although, in the meantime, local people have an opportunity to have their say at a public meeting on the proposals to be held at the Wensleydale Creamery at 7pm on Thursday.