Monday, July 31, 2006

Another fine volunteer weekend

Another fantastic volunteer weekend is over and the farm continues to improve as everyone puts something back into it. As this was the first volunteer working weekend after reaching our initial target of securing the farm, there was a renewed sense of optimism and vision - no longer are we doing jobs just because they are necessary, but instead we are looking at the extensive future of the Initiative.

Once again, there was a great mix of volunteers and shareholders - new and old. People travelled from all over the country and stayed in local B+B's or camped in the garden. Everyone got on amazingly well and brought different qualities and skills to the weekend to share and exchange.

The different activities included painting gates and walls, building fences for the new pig pen, making gates, strimming, clearing concrete areas, sanding and varnishing benches, clearing scrap metal, tidying up the garden and making mini gardens in the car park. All these jobs went really well but a special YEAH goes out to those who slogged away at cleaning bricks. This has been an ongoing job since last October when one of the buildings was taken down by volunteers. Since then brick cleaning has been a job for most working weekends - we want to reuse the traditional bricks for future plans. A very worthwhile project!

The weather behaved perfectly. It was sunny with a breeze all weekend. Then at lunchtime on both days, it absolutely poured with rain forcing everyone to crowd under the jazzy gazebos in the garden. But all was not lost, with immaculate planning, the rain ceased the moment lunch ended, enabling volunteers to merrily continue with their jobs...lucky them!

Everyone left looking tired but contented and were keen to return. By the end of the weekend volunteers are counted as friends and they have all found their niche at Fordhall so it is always sad to see everyone leave.

The next volunteer weekend is September 16 - 17 although many have expressed interest in returning for the odd day before this space.

ps. A quick HELLO! to Dave - a valuable volunteer and database king who has returned to America for couple of weeks to see family. Your being missed!

Display desperation...

Hi All,

Here we are again asking for your valuable help. We are coming and meeting you whenever we get the opportunity, and we want to create the right impression. We are looking for some second hand display boards but can't find anywhere that sells them - can you help?

Our next show is the Shrewsbury Flower Show on the 11th and 12th August, and then Ludlow Food Festival on the 8th-10th September, Attingham Food Festival in Shrewsbury on the 16th September and the list goes on.

In the past we have borrowed boards from friends but this is not always possible. If you have some spare boards you are able to donate, or you know where there are some cheap second hand boards that we can buy, please can you post a comment on this blog and we will reply to you.

What we need: Boards that are light, fold easy, look tidy and are stable - please let us know

Thank you in advance for your support

Monday, July 24, 2006

Burning the Midnight Oil

Whilst we are all still working hard to catchup with the backlog the sun is beating down outside and the butterfiles are out in force. It is absolutly stunning here although the grass is crying out for some rain (but not before Ben finishes bailing of course...)

Our volunteers are so dedicated that not even the power cut we had on Saturday discouraged them. Working long hours into the middle of the night we were all eqipped with candles and the occassional flourescent jacket between us, stuffing envelopes and signing certificates. Thanks to Dave, Sean, Victoria and Holly for your staying power. There was a really good atmosphere in the office as everyone knew how important it was to try and catch up with ourselves and they were all willing to put in the extra mile, again.

Meanwhile, shareholders are taking the opportunity to come and visit the farm during the shop opening hours (Wed,Fri,Sat,Sun 11-4) and are walking around the nature trail, only to return with a huge grin on their faces after seeing how attractive and important the farm is. Fordhall Farm now belongs to you and we love telling you about it and pointing you in the right direction so you can experience it for yourselves.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tom Oliver and CPRE Support Fordhall

At last we can show you the fun that was had at Saturdays dinner and ceilidh dance. Tom Oliver, Head of Rural Policy from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), was our guest speaker (see below). We were honoured that he was able to attend our event and sincerely grateful for all his support throughout the campaign and indeed for his support on the evening. We look forward to more connections between Fordhall and CPRE.

An exerpt from his speech

"It’s not often that there’s a chance to celebrate something that is almost too good to be true. But in the case of the saving of Fordhall Farm, it is possible to do this. Because today, thanks to the commitment of Charlotte and Ben Hollins, Sophie Hopkins and their army of supporters, the farm which has been managed by their family for generations is now permanently secure. It has a future at a time when the prospects for smaller traditional farms are threatened as never before. Something has happened that is almost too good to be true; but happened it has...

The Fordhall team under the leadership of Charlotte, Ben and Sophie have established a new quality in the world of agricultural enterprise: something that I call heroic realism. Heroic because the scale of the challenge was daunting, the obstacles considerable. But also realistic because these three people have their feet firmly planted on the ground, know how to do their job and have inspired others by just getting on with it, even in the depths of a cold February, when I first visited Fordhall...

...What’s even more inspiring is that there are signs that the example of Fordhall Farm is being used to encourage others right across the country to do the same and set up Community Land Trusts. There is a serious opportunity to give this new idea a momentum. This will allow farms, their landscapes, wildlife and the local people who live near them to swim against the tide of standardisation and decline which will otherwise engulf many of them. I pledge my support to help this process wherever possible working within CPRE. Charlotte, Ben and Sophie and their advisers have a key part to play in this new advance of the cause of sustainable farming and the protection of the countryside..."

The day after this prestigious event were guided walks around the farm. We guided 100 people throughout the day around Fordhall, with afternoon tea in the garden to finish. It was a perfect day and the perfect end to our weekend celebration. Thank you to all those who attended.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The sun is shining and we need your help.......

With the farm now secured we are starting to make plans for the future at Fordhall, as Charlotte pointed out earlier this week we have just purchased some new breeding Gloucester Old Spot pigs to join the herd on the farm. The Gloucester Old Spots are a very quiet breed with great maternal instincts and they thrive on our free range system.
The long spell of hot dry weather is beginning to take its toll, but like the old saying goes "make hay while the sun shines". We are currently making 15 acres of hay which is due to be bailed on Wednesday. So if anyone wants something to help pass the time on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday we will be stacking and moving small bales of hay at Ternhill. Who could think of a better way to spend a gorgeous summers afternoon then out in the country with a beer and plenty of physical work.
A local small holder Bob and I have bought a Hay Bob and conventional bailer together to make it affordable. It means we both get the equipment we need at a reasonable price and we can help each other through the busy time that the hay making season is.

So wish us luck with getting enough people to help move the possible 1500 bales, and don't hesitate in offering your help tel. 01630 638696. Lets all keep our fingers crossed it doesnt rain just yet. The forecast is for rain on Thursday, but we may not get finished on Wednesday so lets hope we can hold it off for just enough time.

As typical farmers we are never happy, and once we have got the hay into the barn I am sure we will be complaining that the rain has not come!!


Monday, July 17, 2006

The aftermath, By Charlotte

Well, finally I think saving Fordhall has sunk in for us all. The celebration dinner on Saturday was a fantastic evening.

We raised in excess of £4,000, but more importantly everyone enjoyed themselves. I think it was when I saw everyone dancing at the end of the evening in the ceilidh that did it for me. Just seeing everyone care free and happy after so many months of campaigning and fighting was a great feeling. We know that all our hard work was worth it because you too really appreciate it and support it.

For many reasons this is just the beginning and it is certainly yet another learning experience for both Ben and I. We can finally start to plan for the future. Only this week Ben bought a new family of Gloucester Old Spot pigs to add to his group of breeding sows (see pic above with volunteer Jon on the right), and they are absolutely gorgeous. They are also next door to the farm shop, so make sure you take a look next time you visit.

Other things on the agenda aside from the farm business is the educational aspects of the Fordhall Community Land Initiative. There are many things to think about including staffing, priority of phases and sources of funding. With the security of the farm firmly under our belts there are many more grants we can apply for, but they take time. The important thing is that the funds we are still receiving from shares will contribute towards the match funding.

Our board will meet tonight to discuss these plans in more detail, but more news on the future plans will appear in our newsletter and ask for your comments. Please do keep your eye on this site for immediate developments.

Although we still have an enormous back log of shares in the office, there is a new feeling of calmess in the office. Sophie has just left to do her youth work in Market Drayton and Ben is just gone outside to feed the pigs, whilst I prepare for this evenings board meeting.

It is a very exciting time for Fordhall and the sun streaming in through the window envokes a new energy in us all...... but lets hope its not too long before the rain comes as our grass is beginning to look a little parched.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Internet Issues at Fordhall

Now that we are here to stay, all the technical problems are coming out of the woodwork! We send our sincere apologies for all the unanswered emails and share enquires over the last week – our Internet connection was intermittent at best and then completely exhausted for the last four days.

Likewise, our volunteers are working overtime to try and dent the applications that came through the last few weeks of the campaign. There was a completely overwhelming and passionate response and we really appreciate your understanding about the delay in processing applications. Please be reassured that you will receive a certificate and newsletter in due course. If you have purchased a share for a particular occasion could you let us know and we will speed up the process.

We are now reconnected and will plough our way through the emails with great anticipation. Many thanks to all the lovely messages of congratulations and amazement – we have decorated our office wall will emails and cards and its absolutely lovely.

Our Celebration Dinner is this Saturday and the remaining tickets are still available. Its going to be a fantastic evening with local or organic produce, an auction packed full of fascinating and generous prizes, and a ‘knees-up’ ceilidh for all to enjoy.

A quick note – the next volunteer working weekend has had to be rescheduled for the 29th and 30th July due to unforeseen circumstances. We are extremely sorry for any inconvenience this has caused and we hope you are still able to attend. There are restricted places and only a few left so please let Sophie know asap either via 01630 638696 or

Things are still sinking in here and we are looking forward to setting plans for the future.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Come and Celebrate with us

Exactly one week after we were able to secure Fordhall and I still dont think the news has sunk in, I know the workload certainly hasnt.

We received so many share applications from you all in the final week and indeed this week too; we are having to bring in new filing cabinets just to house you all! This is fantastic news but does mean that we have now got a bit of a back log in the office. We are currently working on applications received here on the 27th June so please do be patient with us. If you have an application which is for a present then please do let us know and we will send it to the front of the queue.

We are also busy organising the Celebration Dinner due to be held at Harper Adams next Saturday 15th June.

It should be a great evening and tickets are selling fast. They are a snap at £35 and this includes a free glass of wine on entry from our local Wroxeter Roman Vineyard, a full three course local and organic produce meal, a ceilidh band, games, a promise auction and of course great company.

We have had some great prizes donated such as a Tour around Highgrove donated by the hrh Prince of Wales, a day at Silverstone races, a Tour of Newmarket Stud, commissions for paintings, health treatments, holidays and more...

More information is available on our website or by CLICKING HERE

Life goes on..
Aside from organising the Dinner and trying frantically to get on top of all the share applications, Sophie and I all week have been at the Market Drayton Taste of the Town exhibition promoting the farm, Ben has been at Shrewsbury farmers market and today is at Shrewsbury Medieval Fair, our volunteer Marie-anne is at the Green Fair in Shrewsbury, and volunteer Dave is in the farm shop.

Please do come and visit us at one of the events if you are able. If not we hope to see you at the Dinner, but please be quick, there are not many tickets left.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This is just the beginning...

Well, what I can say. The last few weeks has been amazing and I still dont think it has sunk in for any of us.

The last two weeks have been nothing short of a whirl wind. We have had hundreds of letters each day through the post and hundreds of phonecalls from people requesting more information on the shares. Volunteers have been busy from noon until dusk and some even stayed with us at the farm to work through the night. Amongst all the stress and urgency in the air last week, it was always full of positivity and hope. The on thursday evening when we were able to count the final figure and realised we had just about made it - we could not believe it. Contracts were eventually exchanged and accepted by all parties at 5pm on Friday evening the 30th June.

I must at this point pass on a special thanks to MFG Solicitors who did all the work on the purchase agreement completely free of charge for us. They have been working on it for the past 8 months or so and have been nothing less than 100% supportive throughout. So here is a huge thank you to Iain Morrison and all at MFG Solicitors in Worcester.

We would also like to pass on an enormous thank you to the landowners, who stuck to their word and sold the farm to us last friday upon confirmation of the £800,000 total. They have been extremely supportive over the last few months and we would like to pass on our sincere thanks to them and to Philip Godsal at Carter Jonas who was dealing with the Trust.

Paperwork and shares are on their way
As you can imagine the huge influx in shares over the last week has created enormous piles of paperwork. We were able to count cheques straight away but we are still ploughing through share certificates. This has been further delayed by our running out of Newsletters. These are currently being printed as a matter of urgency by Riverside Press in Market Drayton, who have gone out of their way to help the campaign throughout.

We are currently working on applications recieved on the 27th June. Please do be patient with us. We should have all applications bought before the deadline out to you within the next two weeks. If you have a particular urgency or you are worried that we have not recieved your cheque please do give us a call and we should be able to trace the progress of your application.

Where does the money go now? By Charlotte

Mis-quote in the Guardian
I have had a couple of queries about the content in the article in yesterdays Guardian Newspaper that I would like to explain.

John Vidal, wrote a fantastic article about our campaign and the next stages. It mentions that in the future grants may be given to other Community Land projects across the country to give them a jump start.

I would like to clarify that this is not where your share money is going or will be going. If we are able to do this in the future then it will be as a result of increased revenues from the future Tea Rooms. In this case the Fordhall Community Land Initiative would be running at a significant profit, and as an Industrial and Provident Society these have to be re-invested within its aims and objectives.

I was asked where I would like to see the project in 15-20 years time. I said that it would be fantastic if all the current loans had been paid off, the educational facilities were all established and the Initiative was creating enough extra revenue to be able to contribute, possibly through grant aid, to other projects with the same aims and objectives as ourselves. This obviously was my own opinion and any such decisions would be made by a vote from the shareholders, but wouldn't it be fantastic if every child had the opportunity to part own a local farm that was easy for them to visit.

I am sorry if my answer mislead any of our shreholders. We are certianly not out of the woods yet as far as funds go and do not have huge pots of money to give away. Approximately, £300,000 of the money raised was through loans, whether they be the Triodos Loan or the Interest Free Loans from you, and these all have to be repaid. This is where incoming share money is going as a matter of priority.

After these have been repaid, income will go into providing the educational resources on the farm such as the Bunk House, and the resource room. These are vital aspects of the project, to not only provide a resource for you, but to help educate children and families on the importance of our English countryside and how our food is produced.

This is an exciting time for Fordhall. You have sent out an important message about the importance of Food and Farming in this country. You have shown that people really do care about where their food comes from, that people do not want all our natural green spaces buried under concrete for commercial development, and that you are thinking about the future of farming in this country. Farming must be sustainable to survive and it must work in balance with nature to be able to achieve this.

Please do continue to spread the word and to encourage others to buy shares.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thank You Sophie, from Charlotte and Ben

This week has been unbelievable. The support has been fantastic from so manyright across the country. There have been too many volunteers to mention over the last two years, but Ben and I would like to make a special thank you to our Project Manager, Sophie people Hopkins (also age 24), who has worked through the night with Charlotte to ensure this project succeeds. The press always concentrate on Ben and myself, but Sophie has played just as big a part as we have and I wanted to ensure she gets the credit she deserves - it is not exaggerating to say that we could NOT have done it without her invaluable help.

This project to save Fordhall Farm started two years ago, when our family were faced with eviction back in 2004. Ben and I decided then that we would fight to try and save the farm. We had a vision to involve people and we wanted to use the asset of the farm, which had been chemical free for so long, for education.

At a pinnacle community meeting in February 2005, the structure was formulated and we met Sophie Hopkins. She had just returned from travelling and had some spare time so she offered her services as a volunteer. I rang her later that day to take her up on the offer.

Ever since Sophie has been at Fordhall. She worked for 9 months as a volunteer helping to manage and coordinate volunteers with myself, and later we were able to find funding through the Leader Plus programme for her to stay with us full time. She was a key part in organising our launch in September 2005 and she was always at hand to write leaflets and articles.

Having just graduated herself, she came to Fordhall with a fresh outlook and an enthusiastic energy to make this innovative community project succeed.

After finding funding for her to stay with us until at least October this year, Sophie has been in charge of our Newsletter, volunteers and helping to organise shares in the office. Her organisation has enabled this campaign to move forward and contained my impatience to do everything at once! We could not have achieved anywhere near as much in this campaign without volunteers, but similarlary if we didnt have Sophie to organise the volunteers then it would have been nothing short of chaos.

Most recently, Sophie has moved into Fordhall. It seemed silly to leave the farm at 2am only to return at 8.30am the next morning everyday. She has slept on my bedroom floor for the last month. For someone not related to the farm and having known nothing of it before last year, she has shown more committment and dedication than anyone.

Both Ben and I would like to thank Sophie for her dedication, her enthusiasm, her energy and her organisation, and we hope that she stays with Fordhall for a good while to come - plus she takes great photos!

Thank You