Deal struck to secure future of Buxton community project threatened with eviction

DELIGHT: Serpentine Community Farm is administered and run by a group of volunteers.
DELIGHT: Serpentine Community Farm is administered and run by a group of volunteers.

The future of Buxton’s Serpentine Community Farm is looking rosy as volunteers prepare to put pen to paper on a new long-term lease.

The team behind the community garden and growing space at Serpentine Walks, which celebrated its fifth birthday last month, has revealed how “concerted” efforts to reach an agreement with landlords High Peak Borough Council have been successful.

Council chiefs sparked anger back in October 2017 with plans to sell the farm site for housing, going so far as to issue the farm group with an order to vacate, before granting a stay of execution until December this year.

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The change of heart followed a community campaign backed by a petition of 1,244 signatures which was presented to Parliament.

Now the principal terms of a 25-year lease covering the old plant nursery and vacant council depot land have been agreed pending legal approval, a move which the farm group hopes will help realise the project’s full potential as a community asset.

Serpentine Community Farm director and chair, Simon Fussell, said: “In 2019 we have celebrated survival and persuasion of people in power to change minds while carrying on with what we do best.

“Community is at our heart with individuals and groups growing plants and people.”

The lease also incorporates an agreement on the use of largely-derelict stone store buildings which date from 1898, pending further investigation of their condition and a sustainable plan being put together by the group for their restoration. It allows them time to develop plans for the buildings, and apply for funding to put them in place.

The signing of the new agreement will coincide with a change of name to Serpentine Community Garden and a review of its status from a community interest company (CIC) to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), subject to scrutiny from the Charity Commission.

Making the change to charitable status will, the team hopes, better reflect the aims of the project and enable it to benefit from gift aid on donations which are its sole source of revenue.

Madeline Hall, director, said: “The well-loved carrot and camomile button logo stays and we will always be Serpentine Community. However, ‘garden’ is a more accurate descriptor of the site than ‘farm’, reflecting the abundance of plants and absence of livestock - apart from mice, a visiting hedgehog and three frogs in the wildlife pond.”

Mr Fussell added: “We look forward to working in partnership with High Peak Borough Council to build Serpentine Community Garden as a valued institution serving Buxton and the High Peak.”

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A future bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is also in the pipeline to open up new development opportunities.

Leader of High Peak Borough Council, Coun Anthony Mckeown, said: “We are pleased to be able to agree this lease which offers some longer-term assurance that they can continue to use this land to provide the valuable horticultural opportunities they offer to the local community.

“This new agreement also puts in place time for the group to consider plans on how to secure the funding that is needed to restore and bring back into use the buildings on the site – funding that the council doesn’t have available or is able to access on its own.

“The Serpentine Community Farm volunteers are dedicated, enthusiastic and hard working and have, over the past five years, brought new life to the old council plant nursery converting it from a derelict site to a real community asset. They have ambitious plans for further growth over the coming years that we will continue to support and that we wish every success to."