Wilderness Campaign Inspires Major Shaftesbury Environmental Challenge

Shaftesbury Town Council is launching an environmental competition to ‘create a sense of excitement’ and ‘enhance Shaftesbury as a beautiful and interesting place to live’.

Residents will be encouraged to form groups to devise projects that improve the town’s green spaces or biodiversity. The public will then choose three proposals that deserve funding. As ThisIsAlfred discovered, the idea was inspired by the public response when land known locally as The Wilderness was put up for auction.

‘Wild About Shaftesbury’ is Councillor Andy Perkins’ project. He says he planned the competition as a ‘catalyst for good’ when he witnessed how residents joined forces trying to protect an ancient woodland that runs along French Mill Lane.

“When the community got together, trying to buy The Wilderness, I was really taken aback by the enthusiasm, the passion and energy,” said Andy. “We had more people in that meeting than we’ve ever had before in my short time on the Council. I thought to myself, ‘this is an up swelling of feeling and emotion that we should try and capture and support. That’s why I came up with the idea for Wild About Shaftesbury as an ecology competition.”

Cllr Andy Perkins

Andy was on a formal tour of Council-owned property, land and assets with fellow councillors and the Town Clerk when the concept came to him. He noticed how one of our town’s green spaces had changed. “The pond in Enmore Green – I remember that being a really beautiful pond,” said Andy. “One springtime I was there with my children and there were many tiny baby frogs. The whole of the area was jumping and that doesn’t happen anymore. And I thought to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could try to inspire and enthuse our community to focus again on these small and sometimes larger projects?”

All Shaftesbury residents will be able to take part in Wild About Shaftesbury. There will be three age-related categories in the competition, “covering people 100 years-of-age downwards,” said Andy. And he’s keen that locals form new partnerships for this challenge. “I’d like to encourage new teams to participate, so not just the big, usual suspects,” said Andy.

We will be asked to submit our outline ideas for improving Shaftesbury’s wildlife or green spaces in mid-May. Cllr Perkins says that we should be imaginative with our proposals. “I don’t think I want to dictate what the project should be. There could be very small projects and those projects could be high impact, low cost and bring big value to the community. Or they could be much bigger, more ambitious projects, which have a greater value and bring joy to a much wider number of people.”

The strongest schemes will then be selected from the entries. “We will have a panel of experts who will look at these from a community point of view, an ecology and perhaps a heritage point of view. We’ll come up with the shortlist of two projects per category from each of the three categories,” Andy said.

The teams behind each of the six shortlisted projects will be asked to pitch their ideas to the public at The Town Hall on Saturday 8th June. After that presentation, the public will get to vote for their preferred plans. “I’d like the public to fill the Town Hall and vote for which of the two shortlisted projects should win each category,” said Andy.

Three proposals, one representing each age range, will be awarded cash to refine or develop their plans. “What we’re looking at is to provide money to allow the winning group to finesse, formalise or professionalise their project so that they can then apply for a grant in September to make the project come alive,” said Andy.

Town Clerk Claire Commons says that this money could help a group assess whether their project is really viable before they request full funding in September. The amount of money available for the end projects may well determine the scale of each group’s proposal but that sum is not yet decided. But Cllr Perkins said it would not be ‘a king’s ransom’.

A Council committee will fine-tune those details, before locals are asked to submit their plans in May. “This has literally only just been approved by the Council and what we’re going to do is form a working party. All those details will be completely finalised,” he said.

Andy expects the final projects would get up and running with minimal delay. “I’m suggesting that the winning projects will have an execution timeline of twelve months. I think that if you’re not careful, things just begin to run out of steam. They have got to have a longer-term legacy. And that’s what we’re really looking for,” said Andy.

Mayor Piers Brown told Tuesday night’s Council meeting that the idea was ‘brilliant’ and it ‘embodies what we have been trying to achieve over the years. It puts the power back into the community’.

“I’d really like to encourage everybody to get involved,” added Andy. “This isn’t to do with politics. I’d like it to be looked at as a good thing, fun, joyous and also valuable. If we could get all those ingredients into one thing, that’d be a great, great outcome.”

Further rules and information will be posted on the Shaftesbury Town Council website soon and we’ll keep you updated on ThisIsAlfred.com.