What a year! February began with a fantastic community meeting brimming with enthusiasm and determination. This can without doubt be one of the key defining moments in the 'birth' of FCLI as from this meeting emerged a clear image of the final project and ideas on how to get there.
The farm itself has undergone massive transformation through many of the Working Weekends which have been organised. The Year of the Volunteer has never been more apt at Fordhall Farm. The volunteer base is rapidly growing as people take up the opportunity to help out in a practical and rewarding way whilst enjoying the fresh air and making friends with familiar faces. We are restricted in what we can do to the buildings as investing in them before securing the land seems fruitless, but an immense amount of work has gone into cleaning up and improving the condition of the land itself. Trees have been planted, fences mended and chicken sheds built. Its one thing after another as volunteers leave their own individual print at Fordhall.
Perhaps the most significant things this year occurred only a couple of weeks ago. FCLI was FINALLY registered as an Industrial and Provident Society. Because we had been waiting for Gift Aid status the process dragged out unbelievably and we were (and still are) very embarrassed about the amount of time it took for some people to receive shares. Hopefully though, it is all sorted now and thanks to an intense and stressful day, made easier by a number of volunteers helping to stuff envelopes, we have finally caught up with ourselves on the admin front!
As mentioned on the website, we have hosted a number of small-large scale events through the year and will continue to do so. Encouraging people to come and access the farm compliments the work we are trying to do and gently educates them at the same time. Our two biggest achievements so far has definitely been organising an amazing Family Fun Day against the odds and establishing a now well-trodden Nature Trail. As 2006 dawns the ideas are still pouring out and it is set to be an exciting and engaging year.
Ben has hit the farmers markets by storm and is a regular at Shrewsbury and Wem. There have also been a large number of one-off shows which he has attended, promoting the FCLI throughout. Often he is accompanied by volunteers who want to both seethe farm succeed and make themselves available to people who wish to learn more about the activities at Fordhall. The Farm Shop also re-launched at the end of November and is almost unrecognisable. It is stocked high of local and organic produce and is a real pleasure to investigate.
The FCLI has certainly reached new heights in media coverage. Not a week has passed since early in the year that FCLI have not been in the local paper. We have also had great national coverage, featuring in a number of broadsheets, magazines and TV news. All taken within our stride! There was even a mini-Archers type series on our local radio. There have been lots of 'firsts' to celebrate as well - the birth of lambs, calves, piglets all marked a new beginning of farming. There is never any shortage of stories here at Fordhall. In fact, Charlotte and myself were so fed up of all this amazing stuff not being recorded we pooled our resources and brought a camcorder so now there is plenty of footage to look back on – even though much of it is shaky and amateur – directing is definitely not a career we wish to pursue.
This would be a good opportunity to put our hands in the air and confess that we don’t know everything and we can’t guarantee anything. All we know is that this project has to succeed and we are responsible for making it happen. Yes, we have limited experience. Yes, we are relatively young. And yes, it is a challenge. But aren’t these the conditions that the most amazing things are achieved under? Amongst our supporters and board members we have a tremendous wealth of knowledge – far more than any individual could possibly possess. We are learning all the time, picking up skills and learning new ways. Plus, our youth gives us more of an edge and determination. We have worked through many nights and will continue to do so until we are happy with the results. It is fair to say, our social life leaves much to be desired. But this really is a once in a lifetime chance and it will succeed.
We have been lucky enough to attend a number of conferences in the last few months which has served as fantastic networking opportunities and fascinating idea sparks. They include: Permaculture AGM, Soil Association Action Organic, National Care Farm Conference and Community Farm Land Trust in Stroud for which FCLI is their exemplar project. All of these have been brilliant but we often feel that they actually create more work because you come away feeling so inspired. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!
We have made some great friends in 2005, many who have come, gone and come back again. There have also been a number of friends from abroad coming to stay at the farm – soon we would like to establish ourselves as a WWOOF farm but one thing at a time! The support of friends was no more apparent than at the FCLI launch in September. This well attended event gave people to chance to see the bigger picture. All too often volunteers help out in a specific area but have no appreciation of how there efforts affect the concept as a whole. It was a lovely thing witnessing it dawn upon the heartiest of volunteers that the work they do really does make a difference over and above their expectations.
This year we have managed to hook in some big names. We have been endorsed by Prunella Scales, recieved letters from Prince Charles and Sting and I met my idol Michael Palin. We have also linked to a number of difference complimentary organisations such as Soil Assoicaiton, Permaculture, Linking Education And Farming, Farming And Countryside Education, North Shropshire District Council, Friends of the Earth, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, North Shropshire Voluntary Action Group and BTCV. Another angle of this is that second year PR students from Wolverhampton University had to pitch a campaign idea to us for their course. This has resulted in Charlotte and I taking on the role as Associate Lecturers (another first) and thoroughly enjoyed it. We hope to continue this role into the next semester and look forward to some of the students helping us to implement their ideas.
We live in a cynical world, one where helping others does not come naturally and one where change, even if it is for the better, is often scorned as it is moving into the unknown. But all these obstacles make it more rewarding when people come together from all walks of life and give up their time, energy and skills purely because they believe in something so passionately and they want to be part of securing its future. To be on the receiving end of such good-will is a true phenomenon and rapidly restores faith in community compassion. The FCLI means so much too so many. It reflects on the past whilst launching into the future, keeping true to its ethos at all times. It is rare to find a project that has the potential to benefit so many with generosity and selflessness at the heart of it. The future of FCLI is cemented by the community strength that keeps the momentum past paced and focused. To be a part of this pioneering venture is exciting for all, no matter how involved they are.
It is fair to say, without question, that the FCLI has only got this far because of the tremendous support it has received. The community that is being created with the FCLI at its heart is one of unparalleled support, enthusiasm and strength. But perhaps the most important qualities are the ability to have fun even when under the most immense pressure, and the pure ambition which ensures success.
Regards to all and HAPPY NEW YEAR x