Lowick Green LA12 8DT

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We’ve Come This Far

4th Dec. 2020


This week, The Farmer’s Arms project passed its first major milestone. Following an overwhelming response to our national fundraising campaign, enough funds were raised to secure the building and cover the purchase price, associated legal fees and commercial property VAT and stamp duty.

A massive achievement, it marks neither the beginning nor end of the project and comes after months of research and planning, community consultation and stake holder relationship development. I won’t bore you with the minor details, but share a summary of the behind-the-scenes work (done predominantly during lockdown) which brought the project to this pivotal point.

I’ve worked for Grizedale Arts in various capacities for nearly 2 years, and it was in November 2019 soon after taking on the role of Valley Project Manager that I was first made aware of the sorry state of The Farmer’s Arms. As I met people across the Crake as part of The Valley Project’s community consultation phase, concerns about the future of this much-loved local landmark were voiced to me on several occasions. Having stood empty for over a year, most felt its future hung in the balance - an opinion I shared having myself watched so many rural pubs decline. In March 2019 when Cllr Wharton hosted a meeting at Spark Bridge Village Hall to discuss a future for this historic institution, I knew GA needed to see how we could support the effort to return this historic institution back to the heart of the community.

Over the coming months, we kept in close contact with Cllr Wharton as he worked on filing an Asset of Community Value (ACV) with Egton cum Newland Parish Council, nominating the building as important for the purpose of furthering the social wellbeing of the local community. In the meantime, I picked up the phone to the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) to discuss their Historic Assets Moving into Community Ownership grant strand and submitted an application for Project Viability funding to support the project’s initial development.

The Farmer’s Arms ACV was successfully filed on 5 May and in June the AHF granted Grizedale Arts £8,1000 to undertake a viability study. A few weeks later, news was received that a bid had been placed on the property and the ACV's six-month moratorium period had been triggered. With no time to lose, GA submitted a letter of intent to bid using our charity status and the project ramped up a gear as we worked to find a way to secure the building for, and with, the community within a very tight six-month timeframe.

Aware that we needed to gain a better understanding of how The Farmer's Arms could best serve the community's needs, I designed a survey for Cllr Wharton to distribute to local residents. A very short two page questionnaire posted through people's letter boxes, it asked which community facilities people used and what additional ones they would use if available to them within the Crake Valley and how they envisaged the future of The Farmer's Arms and how it could best serve them moving forward. The results from this survey then formed the bones of the project's viability report.

Pushing forward with the viability work over the next four months, the AHF’s funding covered an independent valuation, structural survey and various other building reports from experts to assess the state of repair and budget for renovations. In addition, we also brought in business and fundraising consultancy support in the form of the VERY thorough Cumbrian Lass and Business Development Specialist, Zindzi Cresswell. Undertaking extensive market research and investigating the viability of three different scenarios for the building using the results of the community survey, we were also able to commission a set of architectural drawings to illustrate the most viable option for the building’s proposed change of use.

All of this work has been brought together in the project's business plan (available on request) which merges GA's existing resources (including a committed and dedicated core staff team and strong track track record for transforming challenging historic spaces) with the multiplicity of rich resources held across the Crake Valley. Very early on in the viability process, it became obvious that by GA fronting the purchase from our own charity reserves and taking on mortgage finance coupled with investment from the community through loan stock, we'd remove the headache of managing the day-to-day running and protocols of the project to create space which enabled its communities to actively shape and creatively contribute, bringing their skills to the forefront (but more on that another time).

There is still a long way to go, not only for the fundraising which will certainly continue over at least the next 18 months, but with so much possibility, and the enthusiasm behind the project, it will undoubtedly evolve and shape with its communities as the decade rolls on.

Emma Sumner (Valley Project Manager)

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