New era as locals inherit Somerset tannery heritage

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Mar 31 23:32:54 BST 2011

New era as locals inherit Somerset Moorlands tannery

Thursday, March 31, 2011, Western Daily Press
New era as locals inherit tannery heritage

After nearly three decades, a threat of 
demolition, a sit-in protest and hundreds of 
hours of talking, a piece of Somerset's 
industrial heritage now belongs to the people.
The former Morlands tannery, between Street and 
Glastonbury, is Somerset's biggest derelict 
industrial site and has been decaying for 29 years since it closed in 1982.
But today, the Red Brick Building Centre will 
take over the freehold of some buildings on the 
site of the former Morlands factory after raising 
£440,000 to buy the buildings and carry out the first phase of the development.
The Red Brick buildings were owned by the South 
West Regional Development Agency, which bought the entire site in 2001.
In December 2008, the agency announced it had no 
choice but to demolish the buildings after 
security guards raised concerns over groups of 
young people breaking into the site.
A week later, a group of 20 people braved 
sub-zero conditions, squatting in the building to 
protest and decry the lack of consultation and lack of progress on the site.
Many of them went on to form the Red Brick 
Building Centre Ltd (RBBC), which hopes to turn 
the buildings into a community and commercial 
centre offering starter offices, workshops, 
exhibition and community spaces to local residents.
In October last year, the RDA agreed to sell the 
buildings to the community, providing it could 
raise the money before the end of February.
At the time, it said it had "reservations about 
the proposals and particular concerns about how the project will be financed".
Sarah Sander-Jackson, secretary for the RBBC, 
said: "It is a double celebration for us, because 
nearly all the money needed to develop the first 
half of the building has come from the local community."
The group successfully raised the £440,000 needed 
to buy the building, and begin work on the first 
stage. This amount includes £105,000 from 180 local shareholders.
When banks refused to lend money to the project, 
RBBC set up an investors club, who managed to 
raise a further £215,000 for the project.
"Some people were so incensed at the banks' 
refusal to support us in any way that we formed 
the club," said Ms Sander-Jackson yesterday. 
"This club is made up of local trusts and individual ethical investors.
"We also received grants from two of the Clarks 
trusts and a small loan from Co-operative and 
Community Finance, a specialist lender to social 
enterprises." The rest of the money has come from 
local investors and grants, as well as a scheme 
to collect scrap metal, run by volunteer Robin Howell.
"Work will now begin on renovating half the 
building, so that it is ready to let out as 
offices and studios and meeting rooms this autumn," said Ms Sander-Jackson.
The group has also been working with pupils St 
Dunstan's School in Glastonbury, who have been 
studying a campaign module as part of their schoolwork.  
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