About Upfront

Unthank farm was bought by John and Elaine Parkinson in 1995. The property was operating as a farm before that time. The vision was to create a gallery a coffee shop and finally a puppet theatre on the site. Slowly over the next few years the buildings were renovated and converted to become what they now are. Most of the trees on site were planted by the owners as soon as they moved into the property. Only around three of the largest trees were already growing on site.

The original house which John and Elaine live in on site is a Cumbrian Yeoman’s farm house dating from around 1680. The property was renovated to restore the “sneck“ leading into the house from the front door and the inset inglenook fireplace with its in the wall salt or bible cupboard, where things could be kept dry.

Unthank Farm Original
Unthank Farm
Unthank Farm Restored Inglenook
Restored Inglenook

Following renovation of the house work began on renovating the outbuildings. A lean- to modern milking byre became the workshop for John’s exhibition and theatre set and prop making business, ”Upfront Exhibitions”  The U in Upfront is designed to encapsulate a U and a J, John’s initials J P.


The name upfront was carried forward when the 17th century barn was converted to a gallery and coffee shop. The work of design, construction and renovation was carried out by Upfront Exhibitions.

In 1998 the Upfront  gallery and coffee shop opened. The building conversion was given an award for its architecture by Cumbria Tourist Board.

Old Barn Before Conversion
Upfront Gallery and Coffee Shop

A touring caravan site was opened on a small adjacent field. This is now the site for our “Eco” lodges. An adjoining barn has been converted into a holiday cottage.

An 80 seat puppet theatre was then opened in a gallery space which had been converted from the old workshop space that was no longer needed by Upfront Exhibitions.

This building has recently been replaced by a 140 seat Puppet Theatre which also can operate as a normal theatre or music venue.

Old Theatre
New Theatre

The lodges were built to an Upfront design with a very low carbon footprint. They have little or no concrete footings and stand on twelve telegraph poles above the ground. They are built from timber “I” beams , saving on timber and creating a large wall cavity filled with sheep’s wool insulation. The “I” beams prevent loss of heat through the studding that normal cabins might use in construction.

The roofs are tiled using cedar wood shingles and the exterior walls are clad with untreated rough sawn larch from local forests. Water from the roofs is collected to flush the toilets. It is also used to flush the toilets in the theatre. Clerestory windows in the main living areas allow daylight to enter in the mornings In the evenings light enters through large patio doors which can be opened to make full use of the covered decking areas.

Lodge Construction
Lodge Construction
Lodge Construction
Lodge Construction

The holiday cottage was converted from a 17th century hay barn. The main open plan living space is upstairs to allow all the oak trusses which hold up the stone flagged roof to be visible. The interior walls of this space are bare pink Cumbrian stone with lime pointing to respect the origins of the building. The main heating for this area is underfloor, to avoid having radiators in the space.

The downstairs bedrooms are laid out to make best use of the timber beams supporting the floor above. The cottage has an unusual  upstairs balcony allowing a view out across gardens towards the lodges. The rear of Barn Owl cottage looks away from the main buildings and was designed to have it’s own privacy with it’s own small garden area to catch the sun from midday onwards.

Barn Owl Cottage during Conversion
View from the Sun Desk

The cottage looks out over farm fields and a view of Saddleback can be seen in the distance.

View towards Blencathra

In 2012 work began to demolish the lean-to workshop building to build a 140 seat puppet theatre.

This building was also designed to have a low carbon footprint and details about the project can be found on the Upfront web site.

Lean to Workshop building
New Theatre Building

The owners have made a long personal journey to bring about the buildings which you now see. They hope that their passion to create something unique and unusual will continue to give pleasure to others.

Arts Venue Courtyard
Gallery and Coffee Shop Courtyard
Arts Venue entrance