One of the joys of being the leader of East Hampshire District Council is that you can dream big, and know you have the wherewithal to turn that dream into a reality.
Last week I announced my ambition to set up a community farm in East Hampshire.
But don’t worry, this is not a scheme to rival Jeremy Clarkson’s antics on his TV show Clarkson’s Farm!
Far from it in fact.
This is a unique plan, backed with £1 million of government money delivered over three years by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, run by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
It will create a special opportunity that will bring real-life benefits to thousands of local people.
Of all the innovative and transformative projects the council is working on right now – and there are a lot – this is the one I am most excited about.
By using the expertise of local farmers and partnering with organisations and charities that know this sector best, we can create something truly amazing.
Something that draws people together and makes a lasting impact on their lives.
The farm project – we are calling it Grow Up! – has the potential to support the council in so many diverse ways.
It will give respect back to sufferers of dementia who will benefit from the physical activity and mental stimulation it provides.
It will offer apprenticeships, training and traditional skills; these will boost the rural economy and deliver local jobs.
It will employ new technologies to deliver carbon-neutral farming techniques and sustainable food production, and make use of new digital and virtual platforms.
It will teach our kids about food and where it comes from, so they can recognise a cauliflower when they see one and understand that chickens don’t come in nuggets.
It will connect local people of all ages to each other and to the countryside.
It will also reduce social isolation and promote healthy, active lifestyles.
Wellbeing, mental health, skills, growth, rural cohesion, biodiversity, environmental sustainability, partnerships... the list of benefits the farm will deliver goes on.
The farm will play into so much of what we are aiming to achieve as an authority.
There is a lot of work to be done of course, and we don’t know where it will be located yet.
And the phasing of government money will mean that it starts small, and perhaps on the road, before it can settle and grow into the complete vision.
I know it sounds like an ambitious plan but with the right funding and skills in place it can be done.
Local organisations and businesses are encouraged to come forward and play their part in the project.
Since the story was reported last week, we have been receiving messages of support and offers of help and collaboration.
I believe that this project will create something incredibly special and important, a place that can make us healthier, more sustainable and better connected than we are today.
We have planted the seed, now watch it grow.
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