Much loved community farm and home of the famous Swindon Festival of Literature could be sold.
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Lower Shaw Farm could be closed down if a Swindon Council Property Department plan to sell the land for housing goes ahead. The reason: the amount of money required to build three new primary schools has been mis-calculated and the council is now casting around for assets to flog to meet its commitments. The idea will be greeted with utter dismay by thousands of people from Swindon and across Britain who have been to Lower Shaw Farm since it was first set up with the council’s blessing 30 years ago as an alternative conference centre and community resource.
Councillor Nick Martin, Swindon cabinet lead member for finance, confirmed the farm is being considered for sale. "The cost of providing new schools has been mounting up; about a year ago we decided to look at disposing other assets to meet our commitments.
"We can generate about ?2 million from redevelopment of the farmhouse and the land. We could also sort out traffic congestion on Cartwright Drive next to Brook Field school.
"The activities at the farm were appropriate whilst West Swindon was growing but we don’t really need it any longer. Charming as the tenants are, it’s time for a change.
"The cabinet has responsibility for seeing the best return from assets and we have to make difficult decisions."
He maintains that the 30 place classroom recently converted in the stable block at Lydiard Park will provide an equally good provision as the meeting rooms, indoor activity barn, outdoor play barn, orchard, vegetable gardens, and animals to be found at Lower Shaw Farm.
The farm is leased to a trust and has become a thriving education centre and meeting place for people of all ages and backgrounds. This includes structured residential courses and recreational activities in arts and crafts, gardening and the environment, writing and reading, music and juggling, cooking and animal care.
Lots of schools and pre-schools visit and the farm is used for corporate team building sessions, teacher training and meetings by a wide variety of groups from across the town and further afield.
The farm is home to a Children’s Project where children play safely but in an adventurous setting, and take part in environmental games, rural and seasonal crafts and story walks to see the animals. In 2001 it was the winner of the first Swindon Council Agenda 21 Quality of Life award for its contribution to Swindon as a sustainable community.
One of its tenants, Matt Holland, who has lived and worked at the farm with his wife Andrea since 1980, pictured below, is founder and organiser of the Swindon Festival of Literature, which has been run from the farm for the last 14 years. It was started there and is a project of the Lower Shaw Farm Association.
Many festival events are held at the farm and many eminent authors have been there. The festival is now considered one of the leading events in the town’s cultural calendar and derives much of its spirit, energy and ideas from the farm’s unique atmosphere.
Matt expressed great disappointment that the council’s Property Department has taken such a seemingly short-sighted, unimaginative, and solely money-orientated view of the farm’s value. He said, "it looks to me as though this has been treated simply as a financial and rental matter by the Property Department. Their valuers appear to have ignored both the council’s original visionary resolution, made in the early 1980s, to retain the farm in perpetuity, and its present popularity.
"It strikes me that this matter requires further consultation and a closer look by professionals who have ideals, imagination, and the town’s broader interests at heart.
Also, the people of Swindon might like to have their say!"
Parent Wendy Wyatt, from Shaw, was horrified to hear the news. "Where else in a large town could you bring your children to feed chickens, collect eggs and see things growing? Both my children have a clearer understanding of the environment.
"Lower Shaw Farm is a precious resource – once lost, it’s gone. It’s a one off which has taken years to establish. It is sad to think of all the children who might not have the chance to visit the farm."
Andrea, Matt, and their team of supporters and helpers are committed to their role as guardians and custodians of a place that started as an experiment and became a success, a feather in Swindon’s cap.
Long live Lower Shaw Farm
An open afternoon for users, supporters, friends, and anyone interested in the past, present and future of Lower Shaw Farm.
Come and look, listen, and talk. This will be a timely reminder of what goes on at the ‘farm’ in the middle of Swindon, an opportunity to celebrate its existence, and discuss its future. There may be fireworks!
Details from (01793) 771080
To express your viewpoint on the future of Lower Shaw Farm, mail: The Leader of Swindon Borough Council Councillor Rod Bluh – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chief Executive of Swindon Borough Council Gavin Jones – email@example.com
Councillor Nick Martin – firstname.lastname@example.org
Please copy your messages to SwindonLink:
The Swindonlink view:
Swindon Council could blunder into a blinkered decision
There are occasions when proposals are just so wrong that they need blunt comment and what councillors decide now will have profound affect on the quality of life in the town.
April 2007 is the tenth anniversary of Swindon Council becoming a unitary authority. It’s been a bumpy decade with Government assessors ranking Swindon as one of Britain’s poorest managed authorities.
Over the last three years the present Conservative administration, with much prodding from central Government, has been making headway to get the governance of the town right, to attract economic investment and to provide better educational, health and community facilities.
And over the next 20 years Swindon is expected to grow by a further 35,000 homes and the population will rise to 250,000. No doubt Swindon Council will start thinking it?s time to bid for city status again.
Yet, if this council were to destroy what has been established at Lower Shaw Farm since 1980, what does it say about Swindon’s aspirations? Does it deserve to be considered as a modern, forward thinking authority committed to improving the quality of life in our town?
A town is built on solid and physical structures and also achievements. Just as important are the key features that make it different, unusual, attractive and appealing, those intangible and by their nature ill defined things that give a place a wow factor.
Lower Shaw Farm is one of the few places in Swindon which falls into this category. It’s a place where people rediscover key basic values: the joys of being and doing things together, in a setting that is truly people friendly, nature friendly and community friendly.
Swindon Council is keen on rebuilding the town centre with fine architecture and attractions to draw people to it. But this bright shiny future is so superficial if Lower Shaw Farm is swept away because it does not measure up on an arguable value for money scale.
Families and schools go there because children gain experiences unavailable elsewhere. Adults are able to achieve a few moments respite from a world dominated by consumerism, media domination and strife.
Swindon councillors could soon destroy something unique and bring national attention of the wrong kind to the town.
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