Community land project adopts co-op model (Lower Shaw Farm)

Darren Hill mail at
Fri Aug 6 12:14:03 BST 2010

August 06 2010

      A rural oasis in the middle of one of Europe’s biggest housing
      estates is becoming a co-operative as it strives to secure its
      long-term future.

Lower Shaw Farm, in West Swindon, is a three-acre community resource, 
which for 30 years has given adults and children the chance to work, 
learn, and play among organic crops and livestock.

In 2006 the former dairy farm hit the headlines when owners Swindon 
Borough Council considered selling the 200-year-old listed farmhouse and 
surrounding land. When, as a result of a wave of local and national 
support for the farm, councillors became aware of its value to thousands 
of people and agreed to extend the lease and to discuss ways to ensure 
the farm's future

Now, trustees, with the help of co-operative development agency 
Co-operative Futures, are forming a society for the benefit of the 
community — and anyone who shares its aims and ambitions will be able to 
become a member.

Andrea Hirsch, who runs Lower Shaw Farm with partner Matt Holland, 
explained: “We aim to give the community a farm-like experience, but we 
are so much more than a community farm. We are a venue for a fascinating 
range of courses, that include everything from yoga to juggling, music 
to writing, gardening to cooking, plus a whole range of arts and crafts 

“People come here to discover how to grow their own food, keep chickens, 
cook with wholefoods, and to improve skills in any number of ways. Our 
motto is ‘Life is for Learning at Lower Shaw Farm’.”

One of the most popular events at the farm for local people is the 
Wednesday Café, where mums and toddlers rub shoulders with local workers 
on lunch breaks to enjoy tea or coffee and an organic salad from the 
garden, served from Lower Shaw’s collection of mismatched cups and plates.

The ramshackle nature of the farm demonstrates its reuse and recycling 
ethos, where the highlight of the children’s play area is a helicopter 
cargo net and piles of old mattresses.

Said Ms Hirsch: “All the activities and courses we offer are provided 
without ongoing public subsidies, although we will apply for grants for 
specific projects.

“The farm is self-financing. In running it, we are greatly helped by 
volunteers, some of whom have been helping us for 30 years, others who 
are just passing through on schemes like WWOOF — World Wide 
Opportunities on Organic Farms.

“There is more we would like to do here, like installing solar panels 
and rain water collectors, but the fact that our lease comes up for 
renewal every 18 months doesn’t give us the confidence to make long-term 
investments. Now we are talking with the council about the idea of 
buying the farm, or taking on a 150-year lease. This would secure the 
farm's future, but means we need a formal structure in which to 
negotiate, seek investment, and operate.”

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