A BIG project for a small community
When the BBC and Big Lottery Fund (BIG) were looking for villages to champion local enterprise projects for their Village SOS initiative they received over 360 applications. Caistor was successful in being one of the ten finalists chosen to receive funding and be filmed for TV.
Having stood empty for four years and been subject to some vandalism during that time, the Westgate Chapel in Plough Hill did make a dramatic backdrop when in May 2010 the directors and chairman of the Caistor Arts and Heritage Centre group received a phone call from Chief Executive of BIG, Peter Wanless, to hear the news that their bid had been successful.
It had been only a year prior when Roy Schofield, now director and chairman of the centre, had picked up on the scheme as a possible way of funding the group’s dream of creating a much needed learning and heritage centre for the community. Compared to the usual timescales this has been a fast track route for the project and the energy and expertise that Roy and his wife, Carol, have committed to making it a success has been outstanding.
“The last two years has been a constant striving to meet the next deadline set by the BBC. I know that this helps to make good TV but even with both of us retired it has been the equivalent of a full-time job and more to complete all the consultations, documentation and presentations that have been necessary,” explained Roy.
The idea for a dedicated heritage centre came from the Caistor Community History Group, founded by Alan Dennis, of which Roy was a member and the empty chapel in such a prominent, central location seemed to be a natural choice. The Village SOS idea was to look for enterprising villages which would benefit from a regeneration initiative to encourage rural employment, tourism and generate income.
It had already taken two years of consultation with Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) to get agreement for the ownership of the chapel to be transferred on a twenty-five year lease to the group so the launch of Village SOS was not only good luck but also tailor-made to fit the ‘Big Society’ aspirations of the guidelines. LCC stipulated that the local library and a café be accommodated into the plans in order to make the project sustainable.
The original 360 applications were whittled down, by a series of initial scheme submissions, to thirty-two whose representatives had to go on a speed-dating exercise to meet and select potential project managers. BIG provided extra funding for groups to develop and submit a final bid by early April 2010. Each group had to make presentations in London to the BIG approvals panel. This daunting make-or-break task was done by Alan Dennis from Caistor Heritage, Angela Porter, a Social Enterprise Advisor from Lincolnshire Co-operative Development Agency (LCDA) and Charlotte Hastings, the project manager chosen by the group.
“The whole project has cost well over £450,000 so far, of which £400,000 has been spent on the build,” Roy continued. “The project could not have got underway without the help we have received from and all the expertise Angela brought to the project.”
Once the news of the projects successful bid was announced, interviews were held to find contractors to fulfil the work. Jonathan Hendry from Holton-le-Clay was appointed as architect and his brief required that some of the space for heritage be sacrificed to give the centre a chance to be self-sustaining. The lease negotiations with LCC to transfer the building to the community took some time to finalise but the income from the library is vital to the centre. 28, Plough Hill was to be a community meeting place, a cafe, library, heritage and arts centre, exhibition space, small business conference facility and tourist attraction. Jonathan looked at the brief and apart from some structural alterations, saw the project as a shop fitting exercise to deliver the quality and structure that the centre required.
Work was completed in just over three months, to meet the very tight deadline set again by the BBC.
“The construction teams were here seven days a week, working under Charlotte’s supervision,” said Roy, “and the film crew was here throughout the project. They were here to capture it warts and all but we were lucky to have the same film director all along the way and we built a good working relationship.”
The project has already created five rural economy jobs with three of the staff employed in the café. Serving locally sourced produce where possible and accredited to Tastes of Lincolnshire, the café is already a popular meeting place for residents and visitors to the centre - serving homemade soups, sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and salads.
Roy has taken on the role of Centre Manager and Carol is working, still on a voluntary basis, as the Volunteer Manager and General Administrator, but she would like to encourage even more volunteers who could help in the centre. Local schools are already using the centre for staff training purposes and the centre would like to offer volunteers training in appropriate skills such as food hygiene, first aid expertise, and health & safety. For any community-minded person there are opportunities to become involved with the centre and Carol’s enthusiasm is infectious when she talks about the possibilities there are for the centre’s role in the local community.
“Having the library here has really secured this service for Caistor and I believe we can really make the centre a thriving hub for community events and activities,” she concluded.
The official opening day was 11th April 2011 and there are plans to now expand the storage and food preparation areas so that the café can extend its services into outside catering.
“It has been a roller coaster couple of years,” Roy explained as he summed up, “but without Village SOS I am sure we would have got the project off the ground - but it would certainly have taken a lot longer - and while the tight deadlines put us under a lot of pressure, my fellow directors and I are all delighted with the end result.”
Caistor Arts and Heritage Centre
28 Plough Hill
Caistor LN7 6LZ
Tel: 01472 851605
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