Heart of the Village

What is the ‘Heart of the Village’ Project

How we did we get here?…

Last year the Parish Council were approached by a member of the community, who asked the PC to consider the implications to Stoke St Gregory of the lack of new housing in the village. Further research using both Taunton Deane records and the national census confirmed that virtually all planning applications (other that agricultural) were for house extensions in a village with an ageing population. Acting on this information the PC agreed that provision of a small amount of new housing was desirable, and as such agreed to form a non-executive advisory group. The Group was set up to look at potential ways of addressing the housing issue, then to report back to the PC for further discussion and any decisions. Not surprisingly this group was called the Housing Group, however it soon became apparent that the vitality of the village was not only dependent on the provision of new housing, but also on the commercial premises supporting the community, all of which were on the market at that time. Consequently, and with the approval of the PC the Housing Group became the Forward Strategy Group (FSG) to look at all major factors likely to affect the future of the Village. Within this wider remit, the continuing saga of the pavilion was also seen as a vital part of the future health (literally) of the village. It was quickly discovered that housing development in itself was limited by local TDBC policy in which Stoke St Gregory was classified as a Rural Settlement (unlike N Curry which is defined as a rural centre) and as such is not permitted any new housing. Usually this type of problem can be resolved by the creation of a Development Plan however for Stoke St Gregory this was considered to be very expensive, time consuming and much more than what was required to address the scope envisaged.The Charter of the group can be seen here. The Parish Council undertook to enquire whether any local land could possibly be considered for a limited housing development. There were several initial expressions of interest, but It is not the role of the PC to encourage or support any particular scheme. It will however give its input should any proposal go to the planning stage. West of England Developments, working in conjunction with Taunton Deane housing Group has now developed proposals for a limited development. These were shared in a village consultation on September 4th. These plans can be seen here. The vitality of the shop and both pubs was also a concern that needed consideration. It is to be hoped that any development will naturally increase footfall in these premises. The village shop is a very successful venture that has become the social hub. It provides a range of services some of which are essential particularly to those with limited mobility. However, the village shop has been on the market for four years, and while the current owners have committed to maintaining the business until a sale is concluded the long-term future must have an element of uncertainty. Similarly, both Pubs have also on the market for some time and can be considered vulnerable.

What are we doing?…

Attempts to list all three businesses as Assets of Community Value were initially successful. Having a business listed as an ACV gives the community a window of opportunity to determine whether it wishes to bid to purchase the asset for the community. Unfortunately, this status was arbitrarily withdrawn by the local authority. Upon appeal ACV status was reinstated for the Royal Oak. In the absence of a sale, an application for change of use for the Rose and Crown was submitted to TDBC. A decision on permitting this change of use was postponed at the initial application hearing in April. This remains the case. Faced with a ‘last pub in the village scenario’, exploration of a potential project for a community enterprise based on the Royal Oak was initiated. Under the heading of ‘More than a Pub’ the Plunkett Foundation was engaged to advise on the best project approach should we wish to pursue any project in which the village takes responsibility for ensuring that community assets are maintained. The initial task was to gauge the appetite in the community to undertake such an ambitious project. A survey was prepared and distributed both to the parish of Stoke St Gregory, but also to the adjoining catchment area including Athelney, Stanmore and Stathe. This survey started from the assumption that we were faced with a ‘last pub in the village scenario. The results of this survey can be seen here. Based on the scenario at the time there was overwhelming support to maintain both a shop and a pub in the village. This support manifested itself both in a willingness to offer financial support, as well as volunteering. This survey combined with a high-level project plan were two of the key criteria need to apply for bursary support from the Plunkett Foundation. The third criterion was to form an independent initial steering team to provide guidance in setting up any resulting project.

Who are we?

Management of the survey and preparation of the initial project plan was completed by the Forward Strategy Group Advising the Parish Council; this is not the appropriate group to take the project forward. Any further project development activity requires the creation of an independent steering group that works solely in the best interests of the project, taking its own decisions on this basis. This steering committee will be the forerunner of a potential Community Benefit Society (CBS) which will be the formal organisation charged with managing the project. This CBS will be made up of members who have invested in a share of the business and as such will elect officers who will manage the project. Share holders can own one or many shares but only have one vote in the management of the business. Following two preliminary meetings, an initial steering team was created from attendees at a meeting specifically to address the challenge of creating the community enterprise. At the second of these meetings it was agreed to use the title Heart of the Village to best reflect the aims and objectives of what is being addressed without bias or reference to any of the assets that could be involved

Heart of the Village: First Steps

With the Survey, Project Plan and Creation of a Steering Team completed, Heart of the Village (HOTV) becomes eligible for bursary support of up to £2500 from the Plunkett Foundation to gather preliminary information which will help to define the project. This bursary support has been granted Registration of the project with The Plunkett Foundation will make discount rates on surveys available to us. It is planned to conduct Business Buyer’s Surveys and structural surveys as required. The information gathered from these surveys will guide any next steps that need to be taken.