Starting the New Project
Having managed to run the existing shop successfully as a community-owned enterprise, for a year, despite various teething problems we could breath a sigh of relief, and start the much more difficult task of finding a site for the new, permanent premises. This would be followed by finding and appointing architects, agreeing a building brief and design, assessing the cost and of course continuing to fundraise through both village fundraising events and grant applications. We also had a first stab at what turned out to be a very rudimentary Business Plan only 9 pages long!
A special group had been set up to investigate potential sites, and after much work investigating a large number of different possibilities decided on an option of a piece of land owned by the Parish Council. This had been originally generously donated by a villager, Pat Hall, who along with other villagers had managed to develop a partnership with the Raglan Housing Association, to build some small flats for more elderly people who had lived in, or had a long family connections with the village. This meant that many villagers could remain in Woodgreen, who might otherwise have had to go elsewhere.
This land was being offered leasehold and at a peppercorn rent, saving us the cost of land purchase and thus reducing what we needed to raise by a considerable amount thanks to the support of the Parish Council.
By March 2008, we were able to report some progress in our Newsletter, to estimate costs and set a fundraising target for the village – all of it at this point based on informed guesswork. We had also started grant enquiries, and looking back, we hadn’t had too much success at this point.
As it was a greenfield site in the New Forest we needed to work very closely with the National Park Authority Planning Department from the outset, as we required exceptional planning consent. We needed to ensure that we appointed architects sensitive to the environment and happy to work collaboratively with everyone concerned.
By July we had a shortlist, conducted interviews, and in August finally appointed Architects Richard Swann and Nigel Honer of Bruges Tozer, near Frome in Somerset, as best meeting our requirements.
The WCSA committee had been busy consulting with and visiting other community-owned village shops, along with shop and Post Office staff and volunteers, in order to arrive at an initial brief of what we thought we would like in the new shop. We were able to give this to the architects as a starting point as they began their own feasibility study to ensure that we had made the right decision on our siting of the new shop. On 28th November we held an open ‘Meet the Architects’ evening for further consultation and input from villagers who wished to attend. We listened to everyone and discussed any ideas put forward.
Now we had the basis for moving forward, and a positive focus for our village fundraising and grant applications. By the publication of our August Newsletter we had over £26,000, and had been successful in our first grant application from Hampshire County Council through South East England Development Agency, and we had our second application to the Village Retail Services Association for £20,000. This had to be matched by a £20,000 loan from Co-operative and Community Finance. By December we had found that we could apply to the National Park Authority for a Sustainable Development Grant, and for a grant through the Rural Development Programme for England (New Forest LEADER).
Meanwhile energetic villagers got going on fundraising ideas and events. The ‘Fundraiser’ a monthly bulletin and update, sponsored by local businesses was started by a small group of villagers, and proved very successful. There was a Bluebell Lunch, a Treasure Hunt and a Bridge Event. Money was raised at the Cricket Club Fete on cakes plants and Bric-a-Brac, and 50:50 Club was started. A duck race, floating balls down the river was good fun. An Autumn bazaar raised £1,500, and the year ended with a Christmas Raffle. An auction of promises, and a village variety show ‘Altogether Now’ along with a communal meal and party, were planned for the new year. Meanwhile the people of Woodgreen and the nearby villages of Hale, Breamore and Godshill continued to become shareholders and to give what they could afford in donations.
By the publication of our December Newsletter we had launched our Local Food initiative, and everything was well under way. We had held our first AGM. Elected some new committee members, and were continuing on our steep learning curve, drawing on past skills and experience and acquiring new knowledge at a rapid pace. Looking back it was a very busy, often fraught, but rewarding year.