Making it Local

 In National Landscape updates
Ferne Animal Sanctuary visitor centre under construction. February 2017

Ferne Animal Sanctuary visitor centre under construction. February 2017

On the face of it, a blog about a grants scheme may not seem the most appealing but when you work in the charity sector you have a very different mindset! Making It Local which was established to support businesses seems like a lifetime ago (especially since Covid-19) but if you can cast your mind back to 2016 – Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the tragic murder of Jo Cox – and a scheme to help tourism businesses in very rural areas to grow and thrive.

Whilst funding is important, sometimes it can feel like the paperwork to get the money is a veritable mountain to climb. I cannot say that this one was easy – it was not – but we really wanted the money so we could build a visitor centre to ensure that our visitors understood who we were and importantly, how we could ensure that our visitors paid to come in (many didn’t!). We also wanted to build a conference room that we could rent out to local businesses – there are very few places to hold meetings in this area and we knew this could generate much-needed income for us.

The applications process, being European funding, was tortuous but we had some outstanding advisors through the process, accustomed to navigating their way through the paperwork and complicated accountancy systems known only to those who work with EU funds.

As with many of these schemes there was a ‘toe in the water’ expression of interest form which had to get past the committee. Having submitted the form there was the usual tense wait. Falling at the first hurdle can be very frustrating as a huge amount of planning has to go in, even to submit an expression of interest.

We were delighted when the committee agreed to take our project forwards. Then the real hard work starts. I will not bore you with the vast array of rules and regulations and guidance to ensure that we could complete the submission correctly but there were plenty.

However, as each page of the spreadsheet is completed you are one step closer to your goal – the funds needed to do the project.

Ferne Animal Sanctuary visitor centre under construction. December 2021

Ferne Animal Sanctuary visitor centre under construction. December 2021

Whilst Making it Local provided a substantial grant towards the building work, we still needed to bring together a range of other funds to complete the funding needed for the project to go ahead – a similar scenario to Making it Local, with lots of forms and applications asking for support. In addition, we received a substantial legacy from a very long-time supporter who had passed away. This meant we had enough money to proceed.

The build itself took the best part of a year. We had the usual delays caused by the weather, problems with ground conditions and a million decisions to be made about fixtures and fittings, as well as the education interpretation for the visitor centre. Gradually the project came together and once finished we celebrated in style.

Even then, our work was not yet complete. A condition of the grant was post-project monitoring to ensure we met the goals we had set out. This continues.

But the very best thing about the programme was securing the vital funds we needed. We discovered that 40% of visitors to the sanctuary had not been paying and so we were missing out on vital funds for our work. With the new visitor centre we were able to capture that income and help more animals across Somerset and beyond.

A look back at Blackdown Hills AONB’s EU LEADER-funded programmes

In 2002, Blackdown Hills AONB embarked on a six-year Local Product Strategy with £1.8m EU LEADER funding focussed on stimulating new economic activity and product sector growth. The programme supported projects in four key business areas: food and drink; woodland and forestry; arts and craft; and tourism and recreation.

From 2008 to 2014 the first phase of our Making it Local programme delivered £2.4m of EU LEADER funding to both the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONBs, to support the environment and local economy. One of the projects funded through this programme was the Beef and Butterflies project which initiated collaborative working between livestock grazers, landowners and conservation professionals, to conserve and enhance important spring-line mire habitats for scarce butterflies, (including wood white, Duke of Burgundy and marsh fritillary), and other wildlife. A legacy of the Beef and Butterflies project is the Blackdown Hills Rough Grazing Association which continues to share expertise on managing the Blackdown Hills’ rough, wildlife-rich grazing land.

The third EU-funded rural development programme benefitting Blackdown Hills and second phase of the Making it Local programme extended across a larger geographical area and ran from 2015 to 2020. This £1.6m programme approved 12 projects in or close to the Blackdown Hills AONB, including new visitor facilities at Ferne Animal Sanctuary.

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