JOINING the family business is hard enough for any son or daughter but imagine if that firm was nearly 300 years old and perhaps facing one of its toughest challenges yet.

But for Tom Naylor-Leyland, heir to the Fitzwilliam Estate, his new role is something of a labour of love.

So taken with Malton since he first got involved in the We Love Malton campaign two years ago, Tom has relocated to the area and will shortly be setting up home with his bride Alice following their marriage next month.

And despite the endless doom and gloom over the future of market towns, Tom’s attitude is refreshingly upbeat and optimistic.

“Malton is a unique town with so much to offer with a fantastic range of shops and businesses. What we need to do now is increase the number of people who visit to make it as busy and vibrant as possible.

“I have always wanted to live in the countryside and after 10 years living in London I feel lucky to be able to live here and get involved with events which will help to promote Malton.”

Tom’s father, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, is a direct descendant of the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam dynasties and 2013 will mark the 300th anniversary of the two families’ long association with the town.

Substantial parts of the manors of Old and New Malton were bought in 1713 by Thomas Watson Wentworth, of Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire, from the heirs of the Eure family, William Palmes and his wife Mary Eure.

Watson Wentworth enlarged the estate and by 1730 owned about two thirds of New Malton. He was a Whig and MP for Malton from 1715 to 1727, when he became MP for Yorkshire.

As a Parliamentary Constituency, Malton was unusual at the time in that it was a proprietory, not a rotten or pocket borough, and tenants of the Estate, with their sub-tenants, had the vote. The family’s Whig politics opposed autocratic rule, preferring the primacy of Parliament over the wishes of the King.

Thomas Watson Wentworth’s son Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, was Prime Minister in 1765 and again in 1782. Rockingham’s marriage was childless and in 1782 the Estate passed to his nephew, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, whose family undertook the last major phase of construction and reconstruction in the town.

The current Estate owner, Sir Philip, is the son of the 10th Earl Fitzwilliam’s daughter Elizabeth Ann and Sir Vyvian Naylor-Leyland.

Sir Philip, who inherited the estate in 1997, is married to Lady Isabella and the couple have six children – four boys, including 29-year-old Tom, and two girls.

Tom said that his family is particularly keen on preserving the architectural integrity of buildings within the control of the Estate and maintaining the delicate balance between it’s own commercial interests and the long-term needs of the town.

“Our aim is to take a traditional, conservation approach in investing to improve the town while preserving the character and beauty of the buildings,” he added.

But it was the We Love Malton food festival which launched two years ago which clinched Tom’s interest and prompted him to relocate to the town.

“I first came up here in 2009 and was so impressed with the festival I decided to get involve with the We Love Malton team,” he said.

He said this year’s event had now expanded to two days – May 21 and 22 – with a number of top chefs already signed up including Brian Turner, Tom Parker Bowles, Rosemary Shrager and Andrew Pern and plans for a taste trail to include non-food businesses in the event.

“All the family gets involved as well – last year my mother ran a stall on the market and Alice managed to bake 300 cup-cakes using the oven in the flat I was living in at the time,” Tom added.

Part of the strategy of the campaign has focused on highlighting Malton as a traditional, attractive and well serviced market town, offering a very different independent shopping experience to the high street. Tom added: “We have quality local butchers, fishmongers, bakers, delicatessens, confectioners, as well as charming non-food businesses and a wonderful choice of eateries, cafe bars, tearooms and pubs, some operating in Malton for generations, make this town a shopping and eating destination for both local residents and visitors to the area.”

Tom said he was keen to do his best for Malton and help the town grow and prosper.

“The long-term future of Malton depends on continuing to attract enthusiastic entrepreneurs and businesses to the town, thereby providing more stimulus for increased footfall.

“We can certainly help businesses relocate or start up in the town. For example, we recently ran a national chef challenge competition in partnership with Restaurant magazine, with the winner qualifying for a special business start-up package to open a new restaurant in Malton.

“I am really enjoying what I am doing now and I sincerely believe that my future now lies here and hopefully I will be able to bring my own family up in this fantastic part of the country.”