Updated: Jan 21, 2022
The SOLVE Hall Farm Working Party that met last Saturday was tasked with “Finding some alternatives to building thousands of houses at Hall Farm”. One of the first things to appear in our initial mind map was a figure of £450 Million. That put it all in context. Selling farmland to developers is like winning the Lottery. Whatever we came up with it needed to be somehow weighed against the puny pittance to be made by most British farmers. Further, the UoR are not even real farmers! What were we to do?
Funnily enough, a Crematorium was top of our list. I think it got there because Jim Murphy, Chair of Planning at Arborfield and Newland Parish Council, had to be elsewhere and it was his “parting shot” as he left, but there it is. Actually this is not a bad idea! (Thanks Jim). It tied in with other ideas such as a “Green Burial” site, the existing consecrated ground of the Old Churchyard ancient monument, the proximity to Hall Farm of Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Church Lane, the desire to keep the peace and tranquillity of the area and before you know it we were discussing Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu’s environmentally friendly “Aquamation” and whether such a site could be “Multi Faith”.
So far so good, it could make money, not detract from the environment and serve a wider community need. But it wasn’t going to raise £450 Million in a hurry. Well, grants for rewilding are in the news and have already been given a mention on this Blog. It could fit well within the wider scheme of a “Garden of Remembrance” area, but could it also be made to pay its own way?
https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants suggests that there are many different things that can be claimed for, ranging from £333 per hectare for upland wood pasture to £22.50 per tree if planting fruit trees. A reader suggests we look at the new environmental land management schemes announced by George Eustace at the Oxford Farming Conference on 6th January and described on Defra’s blog page:
https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/2022/01/06/get-ready-for-our-3-new-environmental-land-management-schemes/ If the Hall Farm land was used for the ‘Local Nature Recovery’ and/or the ‘Landscape Recovery’ scheme, it would be big step in WBC’s aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and these schemes are not available for non-agricultural land.
Appropriately enough (as today is Blue Monday) the “Big Idea” (the one that seemed to get the most support from those in the room) was “Mental Health”. Now this also links nicely to my previous Blog Post where it was pointed out that Wokingham Borough Council have a “Black Hole” in their Social Services budget well on the way to £4 Million. Ok this is still less than one tenth of what we are trying to raise, but think for a minute. The £450 Million is for selling the land and never getting any further return on the investment. Mental Health problems cost ALL Local Authorities huge sums EVERY YEAR, and the costs are spiralling ever upwards.
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/ gives some basic tips on how simply being outdoors can help mental health. “Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects”.
There is a lot of evidence to support the use of outdoor activity as a way to improve children’s behaviour in schools too. https://www.tes.com/magazine/teaching-learning/secondary/farm-therapy-key-fixing-behaviour “The idea is that taking part in the manual labour of farming - from mucking out and feeding animals to tending crops - brings social benefits as well as mental and physical health gains and that this, in turn, can have a positive knock-on effect for behaviour".
According to Social Farms and Gardens, a charity that supports communities to farm, garden and grow together, there are already around 120 school farms in the UK giving children these opportunities. And while visiting a farm might sound like little more than a fun day out, the benefits of getting involved in farm work should not be underestimated. How much does bad behaviour in Schools cost us? How much do we spend on repairing vandalism, picking up litter, cleaning off graffiti? What if there was a way to get our children off their phones and back in the community?
Bristol City Farm has multiple income streams, including a Nursery, Café, Venue Hire, School Visits and has contracts with the NHS to provide Health and Social Care. When we look at the balance sheet for activities like this it isn’t just about how much can they earn. It’s also about how much can they save.
We had other lots of other themes that linked with this: Allotments, Play Areas, Moving the Museum of Rural Life, “Eden Project” style bio domes, sustainability education, and an overarching idea that has been also been raised on here before: The Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. This would be a way of both celebrating the Queens Jubilee and of attracting potential investors.
Forgive me, I know I am a bit of a dreamer, but is this not a WIN, WIN, WIN for the University of Reading, for all the local authorities around Reading, and for the people of Reading? Mrs Stevens has just pointed out to me that UoR are not in the business of providing Social Care, to which I replied they are not in the business of building houses either. I suppose what it comes down to is we are all in the business of looking after the planet, and each other.