Newsletter Winter 2006 – 2007

Happy 2007!

What a difference a year makes. Has it made a difference in your life too? Hope so, and for the better! - Anyway, what would you like to know? How about a few random un-embellished extracts, month by month, from our dark blue A5 ‘06 Oxfam Diary? See what you can make of them.

January: wassailing; Fairtrade meeting; M’s birth; Susan M arrives; A to Oxf; N cut willow; R’s birth; Family Learning mtng.

February: Under 5s; A to Lakes; Acts Day; Brit Gas.

March: pancakes; Josie moving; Penny’s group; Derek arriving; finish duck house; red rope day; litfest launch; drumming; WWOOF mtng; new hens laying 100%!

April: yoga & mass; Ophelia & Nadine (‘honey is that you?’); Easter; dentist; eco bash; paint for mural.

May: litfest; writing day; J Spalding compares LSF to a pond, and draws it; R to Rome.

June: Corp Games champs stay at LSF; black geriatric scaly legs bantam adopts solitary chick; A away; shrew tamed at Oriel; mosaics David; Kate’s 50th; fox kills scaly legs, chick survives; baskets & felt; children’s project mtng.

July: earth oven; Open Day; Shaw Res mtng; J & A to Ireland for Euro Jug.

August: Acts Week; Circus Skills; Ragged Hedge; A to E Europe; Council Meeting!

September: Council Letter!; M to Paraguay; O to Vienna; Yoga & Mass; Penny’s Grp.

October: Max washed (and perfumed); LSF debate kicks off!; Women’s Weekend; Apple Eve; Autumn Acts; Under 5s.

November: LSF debates continue … on all fronts; Councillors visit!; Ocotal young people too; Council meeting and verbal ‘resolution’; Writers’ Café.

December: carpet cleaner; Carols by Candlelight; Simon’s New Year group.

Each of these entries produced stories in their own right, which, even without putting a storyteller’s spin on them, were either delightful, dangerous, dastardly, or dull. Doubtless it’s the same in your life. – If you want to swap stories, why not come here in ’07. With a drink round the fire, if you tell us yours, we’ll tell you ours!

But one ‘story’, that began early in the year, and at first moved along quietly, then became the subject of rumours, duly gathered an unsettling momentum, and then erupted like a revolution in Autumn, came to dominate our year, and may, possibly, determine the future of Lower Shaw Farm!

Here it is, summarised in significant chapters.

Chapter 1 – March. Daffodils are nodding their golden heads, ducks are in full lay, and the cockerel-fronted litfest programme is out. We discover that LSF has been put onto Swindon Borough Council’s (our landlords) ‘asset disposal programme’, property they want to sell off to raise money for other things. – We write a report to demonstrate our worth and make a case for not being closed down.

Chapter 2 – June. Gardens sweetly blooming, chicks hatching, earth oven building. – On-site meeting with Council officials. It’s brief, awkward, and ominous.

Chapter 3 – August. Hens have started to stop laying, gardens bountiful, Activities week brilliant. - We are summoned to a meeting in the Council offices and things like this are said. ‘Inevitably, taking into account the scale of the Council’s asset disposal programme, there is a need to involve an element of challenge to endeavour to identify all disposal opportunities. Our investigations indicate that the LSF site can generate a high value if new houses are constructed on it and the farmhouse is re-sophisticated. Therefore, your request for a new 5-year lease cannot be supported.’ - Andrea goes pale, Matt appears lost for words, and the nice Officer says ‘Thank you for taking it so well’. – As we came out of the Council building and onto the street, life feels different. Something significant has changed. So we go shopping at Sainsburys.

Chapter 4 – September. Summer’s gone, eggs are scarce, courses are quieter. Receive letter from the Council confirming the refusal of a 5-year lease. We are in a quandary. Do we try to pursue negotiations or do we launch into a campaign? Do we tell people? What do we say? Do all key Councillors know about this proposal? Do they agree? – We decide to stay calm and think about a sensible course of action, in the hope that good sense will prevail.

Chapter 5 – October. The press (Link Mag, Swindon Advertiser, Daily Press, BBC Radio Swindon, Talkswindon, Channel 5, ITV) ‘get the story’. Immediate public outcry. Plight of LSF is daily news, letters from people being a big part of it. We are completely taken aback by the level of interest. Amazed!

In response, we welcome anyone interested in the role of LSF to come to the farm for a get together. We felt it important to keep people informed, to answer questions, and to discover what supporters, or anyone else, wanted to do. And so it was that on Sunday 5th November, between 3 and 5pm, almost 400 people came to LSF.

Amazing! Wonderful! Overwhelming! Uplifting

Following this gathering, and notwithstanding some supporters’ wishes to campaign in vigorous fashion, we decided that for the time being the best course of action by us, the Trustees, was to keep talking, to ‘engage in reasonable and meaningful discussion’ with key Councillors and Officers. We felt the matter had by no means yet been ‘fully explored’. We were keen both to present our case and to hear theirs and to try to find an outcome that was good for everyone, Swindon and LSF. This seemed the right thing to do.

To this end, we embarked on a series of meetings with senior officers and councillors

Chapter 6 – November. No eggs, garden bare, but life full! Key councillors, including Leader, come for meetings and to look round and, after much thinking and talks with eco-friendly developer and a new proposal in mind, we make further appearances at Civic Offices. Outcome is the following joint press statement.

An agreement has been reached, in principle, between Swindon Borough Council and the Trustees of Lower Shaw Farm, which it is intended, will secure both the future of the activities at the farm, and allow the Council to realise some needed capital from the site.

This agreement will mean some of the existing Lower Shaw Farm land will be used for a high-quality sustainable housing project.
The aim of the agreement is to allow the Council to get better value from the site while also allowing the valuable work which goes on at Lower Shaw to continue.

This can be seen as an exciting opportunity to create an environment-friendly development which complements the work which is being done at the farm and could be great for Swindon.

This agreement is based on the following main points.
that a new lease is agreed with the farm's trustees that is suitably long for them to continue to do and develop their work, offers security of tenure, and allows for an option to buy that land from the site that is earmarked for development of the sustainable housing project is not of a size or range that interferes with the farm's key activities that the proposed eco-housing development is of true sustainable quality and to the highest possible standards in this regard that cooperative and constant negotiation and consultation between the Council and the farm's Trustees is maintained to ensure this agreement is a success for LSF, SBC, and Swindon.

There are of course still many details to sort out, and everything depends on planning briefs, planning permission, and money, money, money but, in principle, we see this as a good solution.

And what’s more, the whole experience, though tricky at times and far from over, has shed light on the value of people speaking up for things that matter; the importance of talking rather than fighting; and the fact that good sense can prevail. And much of that good sense was provided by all of those people who took the trouble to write to the Council and local press. These letters, testimonies, and sound arguments for keeping LSF were all key to the outcome.

There are press stories and letters on the following sites.

Now we shall have to see what the coming months bring. We intend to remain vigilant and on the case. And what’s more, we have, in the pipeline, an updated and even more exciting version of our original environment-friendly eco-proposal. Watch this space!

Throughout 2007, we intend to put regular notices on this website to try to keep you up to date with what’s happening.

As for other things that went on in ’06, it’s actually been a brilliant year. The farm has seemed more alive than ever. Attendances at events and courses have been terrific! Teams of helpers and Wwoofers have been magnificent. Our flock of home-bred home-hatched mixed-breed up-ducks, waddling and puddling round the farm, has been a delight. The four-legged stock continues to bleat, grunt, bark, and miaow whenever it wants food, affection, or a walk, with the exception of the long-eared ones, which do their own thing, hoppety hoppetying about the place and every now and again going underground, to breed like rabbits. - The two-legged non-feathered life forms that are resident or were bred here are well and still fully engaged in life. Rosa has a fairy-sized cottage, car, and job in Herefordshire, all of which she manages with ever-growing multi-tasker’s aplomb; Jacob, the juggler, has moved out of the farmhouse and into the farm bus, bought himself a wonderful woodstove, and has become a white van young man; Anna spends speedy and intense terms in Oxford, interrupted by only slightly slower spells at LSF but still brings home bags bulging with books; Andrea continues to make multi-tasking look the natural state for a mother who runs a business, and a garden, and a kitchen, and a children’s project, and … and … but still finds time to walk faster and further than anyone else hereabouts; and Matt remains mysterious in his ageing ways, gets plenty done, but still has the biggest piles of paper in the office. All of this clan has managed life-enhancing trips abroad in ‘06, even if they were mostly by eco-harming means of transport. Rosa flew to rock with Meg in Rome; Anna got on a plane and a train to travel with Maxim in eastern Europe; Jake drove and sailed to juggle with jugglers in Eire; Andrea took the train to walk with walkers in Italy; and Matt jumped on a jumbo to cross the ocean and peek at parts of Paraguay that other travellers try to avoid. All of us had good times (though one had a bad bit too) and were thankful for good health, good company, and safe journeys.

We hope you like our new-look programme and website. Re-shaping both, though in something of a hurry, has been fun, working with our imaginative, expert, and friendly designers and printers. We hope that both retain a functional beauty while reflecting continuity and change. Many thanks to those of you whose pictures we have used.

We look forward to seeing you in 2007!