Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The last six months in a nut-shell – pain, gain and rain…
It seems that since our official inauguration last December, time has been taken up with some tedious jobs that had to be done. The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust [JLCT] has been accepted as a registered charity and as an Environmental Body able to apply for Landfill Tax Credits for approved environmental projects. Also, we have registered for Gift Aid. Many thanks to those of you who have filled in Gift Aid authorisations that will increase your donation’s value by about a quarter. If there is a gift-aid form included with this newsletter, it means that you haven’t filled in a form yet but there is still time to do so! There have been some extremely generous donations made by Members and, all in all, we have not wasted a penny.
We have submitted applications for funding from the Lottery Heritage Fund and from Biffawaste for up to £100,000 with a view to restoring the grounds and out-buildings attached to Richard Jefferies’ birthplace and home at Coate. This project would go someway to meeting our own aims whilst enhancing the environmental, historic and educational potential of the Museum. The application process has included umpteen meetings, books of forms to complete, surveys and a reluctance on the part of Swindon Borough Council [SBC] to help, even though they aren’t interested in doing the work themselves. JLCT lodged a formal complaint about the state of the Museum property that has belonged to SBC since 1926. During this time, the council has pulled down buildings, sold off much of the land to development and attempted to destroy more, albeit that Sir John Betjeman, Spike Milligan et al stepped in with a major national appeal that saved the barn/pig sties and dairy from certain destruction. The pretty little thatched cottage, that has been used to house the caretaker, has been empty for over ten years whilst SBC’s answer to many of the repeated attacks by vandals is just to board up doors and windows. On top of this, for the last 20 years, volunteers from the Richard Jefferies Society have kept the Museum open to the public. They are expected to clean the place in the bargain. If you haven’t ever visited the Museum for a while, you are in for a treat [see enclosed leaflet for more information].
With this history in mind, our application for funding is very much in line with the Richard Jefferies Society’s hopes for the Museum. The aim is to restore the out-buildings to how they might have looked in Jefferies’ time and house appropriate farming equipment to demonstrate their use. The gardens would reflect Jefferies’ passion for nature and restore many of the features flagged up in his writing. Finally a two-year part-time post would be created to ensure that the Museum is opened on a more regular basis and that appropriate workshops can be run related to nature, literature and social history.
It will take until about October before we find out if our bid for funds is successful and assuming that we succeed, we shall need to obtain listed building consent for work on the dairy, barn, walls, paths and fences and an agreement with SBC to provide JLCT with a 15 year lease. The last requirement is likely to be the most difficult but we have already put the wheels in motion to achieve this.
In the meantime, thanks to the assistance of volunteers drawn from both the JLCT and the Richard Jefferies Society, the gardens of the Museum are already taking shape. Whilst brambles and nettles can be good for wildlife, too much of the wrong thing in the wrong place can be regarded as pollution! This was the case at the Jefferies Museum where everything was smothered. Carmela Masi secured a grant from Royal Mail to buy plants and trees worth £500. Now there is colour in the flower beds where there was none before whilst old English varieties of fruit trees have been planted in the orchard.
If anyone can help spend some time gardening or donate plants that the slugs won’t chew up, we would like to hear from you. Alternatively, if you would like to make a specific donation for plants, please contact us at the registered address at the end of the newsletter. The Richard Jefferies Society would also value your assistance with regard to helping out at the Museum. The more volunteers, the more that the Museum can be opened up. Please contact us even if you can only help a little. Remember that wise saying by Edmunde Burke: Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
Simon Bridewell is hoping to engage about 40 volunteers from Nationwide to work in the grounds on a 2-3 day project in the late summer. This will provide a great boost to the project regardless of whether we are successful in our bid for funds.
In the meantime, we can’t thank volunteers enough for all their help so far and for the rain that has assisted in the care of our plants and trees.
The Save Coate campaign.
There has been a bit of a breathing space with regard to the Coate development proposals. Over a year later, the planning application to build nearly 2000 houses, university buildings and business premises next to Coate Water still sits on the planners’ desk. Whilst the principle for development has been accepted by various government planning inspectors, the planning application goes against what the inspectors view as acceptable development of the land. The Swindon Gateway Consortium, made up of Redrow Homes, Persimmon Homes, University of Bath and the Swindon & Marlborough NHS Trust, are expected to withdraw or amend their current outrageous plans that do not provide for adequate protection of Coate Water nature reserve, nor the open countryside views to and from the Downs nor other ecological or historic features, whilst Richard Jefferies is still treated as a nonentity. If English Nature’s buffer is accepted as a minimum for the Coate Water nature reserve, whilst it does not meet our requirements, it might give us some sort of bargaining tool to ensure that this land is managed and protected in order that it enhances the Site of Special Scientific Interest forever and isn’t used as an excuse to expand as soon as the developers run out of space. JLCT has asked that any land provided for buffer use, whether this relates to the three nature reserves in the area, the otter streams, the archaeological features or the views, should be given to JLCT. We have also lodged a formal objection to SBC with regard to their draft planning guidance on seeking developer contributions. The council see development as a means to fund other community facilities in the town. Fair enough, but with regard to their requirements for leisure and cultural facilities, the Jefferies Museum and Coate Water aren’t even mentioned. Keep a close watch on the Save Coate web site www.savecoate.org.uk and the links to keep up to date with campaign news.
Alternative Use of Jefferies Land
The response from councillors with regard to the Trust’s proposal for the alternative use of the Coate development area has been met with stunned silence. There has been no feedback at all and no interest in our proposals. Alan Hayward asked this question to Cabinet on 18th January 2006.
The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust objected to the proposed changes to the Structure Plan related to major development at Coate. The policy conflicted with the Trust's alternative proposals for the area. The Structure Plan Authorities rebutted the objection on the grounds that the document had not been subjected to public consultation. Albeit that the vision has undergone limited consultation and the final copy has been sent to all councillors, we ask whether councillors have read the pamphlet and would they not agree that the proposals contained within the document would offer Swindon a far greater vision for the future of Swindon than that offered by the Swindon Gateway Consortium?
Given that the Structure Plan Authorities did not go through a debate about whether Coate was a suitable location for a university, housing and offices before committing the land to development in the Structure Plan review, are the views of over 26,000 people who have signed a petition in objection to the proposals to be ignored?
Essentially we were told by Councillor Bluh that our vision for the land was commendable, but it was pie-in-the-sky. As the only obstruction is developers’ greed and the University of Bath’s dogmatic stance, we see our proposals as not only practical but vital to the good health of Swindon.
Given that we haven’t had a chance to promote a membership drive, it is good to report that we now have nearly seventy members. Some are local, some national and two members live in Canada. The John Chandler report on Coate and Richard Jefferies that JLCT paid to have printed has been widely circulated and has been well-received. Copies can be picked up from the Jefferies’ Museum and the Coate Water Rangers’ centre along with membership forms.
Thanks to Patrick Esmonde in Canada, the JLCT has forged a relationship with the Biennial John Burroughs Nature Writing Conference held at the Oneonta Campus of the State University of New York. The Nature Writing Section of the English Department at Oneonta sponsors these Seminars. John Burroughs (1837-1921) is a renowned American nature writer whose works, like Jefferies, were topographical and linked closely to the landscape of his particular region, i.e. the Catskill Mountain area in mid NY State. Patrick encouraged John Chandler to submit his report to conference. We were delighted to learn that the paper was accepted by conference but, unfortunately, John is not in a position to be able to present it in person.