Did Ashfield grow this year?

Three Welsh community enterprises funded with over £400,000 each in National Lottery Community Fund cash reveal how they have weathered the economic downturn and the washout summer to ensure the survival of their community led business ventures.

In May 2010, the Ashfield Community Enterprise (ACE Ltd) project in the village of Howey, Powys, was one of three Welsh projects awarded £400,000 in National Lottery funding through Village SOS, a scheme by the National Lottery Community Fund  and the BBC which aimed to inspire a rural revival across the UK.

In the last of three blogs, Mag Richards, ACE Ltd Secretary, reveals how the project workers have been working hard within the community of Howey to make a success of the business. . .

Mag Richards, ACE Ltd Secretary

We used our funding to re-develop a dilapidated local tree nursery here in Howey and transform it into a thriving community-owned market garden. Our project offers growing facilities for the local community to produce local foods and sell under our Ashfield brand. As part of our plans, a house on the site was also refurbished and is now let out to local people.

Having endured one of the coldest winters and wettest summers in recent memory, we had to continuously battle the elements to ensure the enterprise and our crops survived. It’s been a challenging year but we’re still ploughing ahead and we have got exciting plans for the future.

There’s no doubt that we’ve got some tricky times coming up but we’re doing ok at the moment. It’s not straight forward and there are peaks and troughs. It’s lucky that we have poly tunnels because otherwise we would have been stuffed with the weather we’ve had this year. Our poly tunnels are full of produce and our plants are going well. We are now specialising in growing hardy perennials which can grow in the cold and wet climate of Radnorshire and we’ve started selling cut flowers as well.

We started with eleven potential income streams and we met our targets with some of them and with others we haven’t. It’s been a bit of a struggle. Basically we’re looking at maximising our income by generating new ideas and products because you have to be quite flexible and responsive to the local market.

One of our biggest success stories is becoming the first community Land Trust in Wales to deliver affordable housing. We converted the house on the land into two flats and we’ve now let them out which also generates income.

And there are numerous other triumphs. Local groups and individuals are now renting spaces to actively grow on the site and we have built a strong customer base for our range of fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers. We run a weekly market stall to sell our produce and we have secured an established contract with local health food shops to sell their plants and herbs.

Local groups and individuals are now renting spaces to actively grow on the site

Buying the site, renovating it and watching people buy our produce has been the biggest achievement so far for me personally.

We are now looking to diversify and develop new markets and partnerships around our products including developing a range of preserved foods. You can build up your stock with preserved food such as chutneys, jams and juices.

We hope to develop some new products through an intergenerational programme by interviewing older people in the area who remember how they used to preserve food. We will have a new processing kitchen and we hope people will use the kitchen to develop their own micro businesses and ways of preserving fruit and vegetables like they used to do in the old days.

Our first year of business has been exhausting, exciting and challenging. The biggest challenge is balancing income generation against meaningful community engagement and working with volunteers. We still have a long way to go and we would still like to attract more people and volunteers onto the site. Our primary aim is not to make lots of money, but to make enough money to keep the community involvement going and retain the staff that we have.

For more information on Village SOS log on to www.villagesos.org.uk

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