Friday, 13 July 2012

Growing community projects

There is a wonderful example down here in the far west of Wales of how people can pool their often meagre resources to create something very special for the community
An update on the project was given to participants this week – and progress is good.

Back in 2010 more than £200,000 in share capital was raised by locals in the Cardigan/Aberteifi area towards the purchase price of a large redundant site in the centre of town. The are had included a farmers’ coop outlet, and included in the sale were a large yard, a cottage and various other buildings.

At one time there had been a plan by developers to turn the area into a shopping mall. Thankfully this failed to gather much support.

But with the help of a loan to top up the funding raised through local shares the site was bought by the local group,  which is known as 4CG (Cymdeithas Cynnal a Cefnogi Cefn Gwlad / Society to Sustain and Support the Rural Countryside).

Some of the shareholders were able to secure their stake, at £200 a share, through a loan from the local bank, the Credcer Credit Union - 
So a truly local project, with hundreds of local shareholders was born. Many people just bought one or two shares – but everyone has a vote.

Initially, the main objective of the communal purchase of the Pwllhai site was to facilitate cheaper, convenient and accessible parking for the town, for the benefit of shoppers and tourists.

The parking fees are much less than the car parks run by the local authority, Ceredigion County Council.  Convenient and affordable parking was seen as a basic requirement for the prosperity and survival of the nearby high street. This was set up first and is working well, bringing in much needed income to help pay the mortgage.

4CG made a loss in its first year, largely due to start up costs and legal fees associated with the purchase of the site. But this week shareholders heard that in the first six months of the current year there is a net surplus of income.

This was what we said about the scheme when it started a couple of years ago: ‘The intention of the 4CG enterprise is to also support fishermen, farmers, growers, artists and to offer all local producers an outlet for their goods.’

Well, we are doing all that already -- and we have gone even further than that now.

Loads of local veg every week
There is a market at the site every Thursday throughout the year featuring top quality and reasonably priced produce, including fruit, veg, award winning cheeses, meat, cakes, eggs, garden plants, crafts and fish and seafood from local fishermen.  This market is celebrating its first year in business this week. It has a great atmosphere and there is always music from the guitar makers who have a stall there. There is coffee and takeaway food on sale all day and tables and chairs are always set out for customers to use.

The Old Bike Store at the Pwllhai site was renovated and is now leased to the Jig So children’s centre, which provides services to local families on a daily basis.

The former co-op store has been renovated by volunteers from Cardigan’s own Eco Shop, and now provides a large area for sales and information on sustainable living. Another building on the site has been opened by CADAMM, the Cardigan maritime and agriculture museum.

More work is due on site clearance and removing some of the buildings to open up the car parking facility even more.
Local cheeses in the produce market
Many grants are being applied for to help develop various projects and the possibility of buying another nearby building is being investigated. There are also plans to set up alternative means of energy generation for the benefit of local people.

As was pointed out at the shareholders’ meeting this week, that it took a lot of people each putting in a little bit of money to get this going, mostly what it has taken to maintain and grow it has been the huge enthusiasm of local people.

There are other similar enterprises either already growing in this area of south Ceredigion and north Pembrokeshire  – energy schemes, community-owned shops and maybe a community-owned farm.

As one 4CG shareholder said: ‘This is the only way to secure our future in today’s world – to own the resources and the means to produce our food and energy locally for the use and benefit of local people. This is how we will survive.’

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