C/o East Shallowford Farm, Widecombe in the Moor
First of all, I want to thank all those who have looked at the proposals for new development at East Shallowford, both those who have written or encouraged us with support and those who having considered the application have either expressed their concerns or posted their questions.
I want in this open letter to re-emphasise some of our key principles in our planning application. I have read again the design statement and affirm that it states carefully the reasoning and the context for the planned development, but I want to express here some of the things the Trustees and team at East Shallowford are committed to.
First, we are committed to continuing to bring young people to East Shallowford and to Dartmoor. It is forty years this Autumn 2015 that Elizabeth Braund and Rosemary Bird first came to Dartmoor to pilot their project, in the first instance at Bag Park Manor, with the kind assistance of Patrick Coaker. It will be forty years in autumn 2016, that they first came and settled at East Shallowford, bringing groups of young people, school groups, and needy individuals onto the moor. I was with Elizabeth on one of her early viewings of East Shallowford, seeing it from below Corndon, and I have spent my whole working life working at Providence House and bringing groups of young people and families to this special place, from small groups of two or three to annual groups of seventy, as well as regular minibus loads. Visiting children do come with difficulties and noise, and have done so over the years, but we believe we have and will continue to manage that well. The benefit that this experience brings to young people is incalculable and would take more than one book to catalogue. It is to this that we at East Shallowford are committed to continue in the long term.
Secondly, we are committed to East Shallowford being a small working hill farm. This was integral to Elizabeth’s concept and continues to be essential to ours going forward. We currently have a flock of just under 60 ewes, and a small herd of South Devon cows which we intend to build up again to around 15 cows. There are small animals on the ‘home’ farm for children to interact with safely, and the more challenging proper engagement with the larger animal farming process is vital to the experience. The last group enjoyed bringing in and sorting sheep for the Shallowford Nativity, groups in the summer and autumn worked with Paul Edworthy to put the sheep through the race and assist with worming, feet checking and injecting, and through the different seasons groups get their hands dirty with many farm tasks. Contrary to one or two aspersions, Shallowford has not got rid of Paul, but after a long period of discussions about the best way forward, Paul decided to move on. We wish him every success in his own work, and we are grateful for the help he has given us in making a valuable link with Broadaford, our one working neighbourhood farm, that shares similar land and adjoining Rhos pasture, and with whom we are planning to work and build the farm, keeping the engagement with visiting groups real. We are committed to maintaining East Shallowford as a working hill farm, despite the economic challenge that this presents. It is intended that the diversification into working with the school groups will support this aspiration.
Thirdly, we are committed at East Shallowford to properly accommodating residential groups. This was at the heart of Elizabeth’s vision, and Providence House groups are longing to stay once again on the farm regularly, rather than turn up each day for breakfast. When Elizabeth in 2009 funded the renovation of the farmhouse, it was, in keeping with the planning agreement, to be upgraded for compliance for day visitors. When Elizabeth moved back into the farmhouse, there was no accommodation for visitors, except one bedroom for her carer and one visitor bedroom. The current capacity with the manager living in is for a maximum of 6 visitors in the house. Our proposals are designed so that we can house a small minibus load group, but also to have the capacity for school class size groups. The maximum capacity is 40 beds to allow for the flexibility needed for children and supporting school staff in 11 bedrooms. The building is designed specifically to accommodate groups of young people and meet our charitable purposes. Our plan is neither to appear like a hotel nor to function like one, but provides us with the versatility we need to host different sorts of groups, with their various needs, and reflects the commitment of East Shallowford to provide good accommodation for visiting groups.
Fourthly, we are committed at East Shallowford to our charitable objectives. That is why we bring Providence House groups here, that is why we wish to extend to other urban groups the Shallowford experience, and that is the underlying reason why we wish also to work with schools, in class size groups. Our business plan model means that we will be in a better position to support the more economically challenged groups visiting groups. Money has never been, nor ever will be, a motivation for this work. In all the years I have brought groups, in almost every case there were those who could not effectively pay their way; but the value of their coming was of more importance than their ability to pay. Thus at East Shallowford as a charity we are committed to the benefits to people first and foremost.
Fifthly, at East Shallowford we are committed to working with the local community. East Shallowford has been indebted to the support of people such as Pam Nosworthy and Richard Norrish from the early days, and farming support of men like Andrew Warren in the middle years, of Paul Edworthy over the last few years and countless others throughout the forty years, and going forward we look to develop closer ties with the Dracup family at Broadaford and also with new supporters. We have enjoyed the association not only with the established Dartmoor farming community, but also with those who have settled on the moor subsequently. Our special days at East Shallowford, such as the Nativity and open days, only take place with the collaboration of local people. We want Shallowford to be a place with an open door, and welcome people coming in to visit or to talk over mutual concerns. We do not see East Shallowford as a stand alone centre, but are committed to its place and setting within the local community.
Sixthly, and before I go on endlessly, at East Shallowford we are committed to Dartmoor and all it means, its historical, cultural, ecological heritage. For this reason we openly engaged with our neighbours and the Dartmoor Planning Authority for many months before we submitted our application. We are continuing that dialogue and further refining our proposals to get it right, so that our development principles coalesce with principles of the area. We want our young people to play a part in the learning about the special Dartmoor habitats, like the Rhos pasture, that they need conserving and to take part in active conservation management. They will learn about the restored pound that we will develop under Moor than Meets the Eye, to respect the environment and the rich heritage of the moor. Sensitivity to these areas has guided our programme of activities and our design for development, and we are committed to working with all who want to engage with us to get this right.
East Shallowford is only a short drive, or a phone all or an email away. We encourage visitors to the farm and to talk through the aspirations to develop the work of the farm. Please contact us with questions or words of encouragement.
With best wishes for this Christmas, for the New Year and for years to come
Robert Musgrave MBE