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Wedmore Village Farm: Making a positive local impact by tackling food poverty, social isolation and much more

Case study

Published
8th May 2024
Topic
Co-op development
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People with potatoes on Wedmore Village Farm

Discover what happens when a group of motivated, passionate people get together to work towards net zero and create a more resilient local community… 

With a two-acre commercial market garden, one-acre campsite and a raft of social programmes that benefit local people, Wedmore Village Farm in Somerset is making a positive difference in its community. 

“We are working with Taunton and Bridgewater College Special Educational Needs (SEN) department, having groups of young adults on site doing bits of construction and learning about organic agriculture,” said Farm Manager Tristan Faith. 

“We are also currently setting up a Care Farm scheme, which is horticultural therapy for adults with learning disabilities – and we’re making sure the place is as accessible as it can be. 

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People working at Wedmore Village Farm

“We have a great symbiotic relationship with the local Men’s Shed – a group of guys who get together to combat social isolation, which is much more prevalent in rural communities. They lease a space in our barn and in return they do gardening and practical jobs for us. 

“In order to set up the Care Farm scheme we needed a warm, dry space with warm running water. The Men’s Shed guys have built that space, made it wheelchair accessible and have laid accessible tracks up to our market gardens.” 

All this – and more – for a farm that, at the time of writing, has been going for only six months! It was the brainchild of a group of Wedmore village locals who approached Tristan to help them set up a community farm as part of their plans to reach net zero by 2035. 

“The group of people running the farm are really motivated. I’d already worked with them on a project run by the Food Forest Project – a charity I set up five years ago that creates community growing spaces in order to combat food poverty and biodiversity loss.

“The charity is currently leasing space from the Wedmore Village Farm to grow organic food for three local food banks and two local primary schools that have 120 children living below the poverty line,” said Tristan.

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We’ll soon be delivering boxes of produce every week to the schools and food banks, so people can enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables. They’ll be given out as veggie boxes to the school children’s parents. There will be cook books with simple, cost-effective recipes in the boxes too.
– Tristan Faith, Farm Manager, Wedmore Village Farm

A former construction project manager who’s passionate about helping form resilient communities, Tristan had experience of setting up a charity and a community interest company (CIC). When it came to Wedmore Village Farm, he knew a community benefit society (CBS) would be the best model. This is a type of co‑op owned by the community. 

“I’ve got lots of contacts in the grant and philanthropy world and I chose a CBS because many grant authorities, loan providers and private philanthropists consider it to be their gold standard,” he explained. 

To help Tristan and the team set up Wedmore Village Farm, he applied to the Business Support for Co‑ops programme delivered by Co‑operatives UK in partnership with The Co‑operative Bank. They were awarded support from advisor Charlotte Hollins, one of the founding members of Fordhall Farm in north Shropshire, the first community farm in the UK. 

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We had bi-weekly Skype mentoring meetings with some of the Fordhall Farm members of staff. They ran us through everything, step by step. And they were on the end of the phone and always contactable by email. They were fantastic and their communication was really great.
– Tristan Faith, Farm Manager, Wedmore Village Farm
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People working at Wedmore Village Farm

“Charlotte invited us up to the farm, so we spent a few days working with their care farm group, understanding different revenue streams and how membership worked. I can’t fault them, they were just brilliant.” 

Tristan was also impressed with the support Co‑operatives UK provided around CBS governance and registration. “Dane Pollard helped us with the paperwork for the Financial Conduct Authority, the constitution, model and rules. He was great and really knowledgeable.” 

With a current core team of seven CBS members, Wedmore Village Farm is planning its strategy going forward. “We’ve done lots of soil testing and are watching the land to consider how best to design our field scale food growing area.”

“We’re either going to launch a veg box scheme or sell directly to the village and will make that decision by November 2024. That and the campsite are the revenue generating activities that will support our social programmes.” 

For Tristan and his colleagues, the support they’ve received from Co‑operatives UK has been instrumental in helping them achieve what they have so far.

 “I tried to write the rules and fill out the application to become a CBS – and it was a nebulous disaster! As soon as Co‑operatives UK came on board, it took the stress off. The help was invaluable.” 

Find out more

Wemore Village Farm: Website | BBC News | Facebook group | YouTube

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