Talgarth Mill, Wales
Talgarth Mill is a fully restored, 18th century water-powered flour mill in the Brecon Beacons (www.talgarthmill.com). The mill was given a new lease of life in 2011 thanks to a Big Lottery grant and is now once more a working, water-powered mill, run by a community group through a not-for-profit company (Felin Talgarth Mill Ltd).
The mill produces a range of traditional, stone-ground flours sold in an on-site café and volunteers give tours of the restored buildings and historic waterwheel. The project is flourishing but development was being hampered by a peculiarity in the land ownership.
The group has a 25-year rental lease on the land and buildings. The lease included two parcels of land, one next to the mill and one down by the river, separated by a 200 square metre strip of land belonging to a house on the other side of the river.
Chris Blake, Director and Chair of Felin Talgarth Mill Ltd, said: “That middle strip of land belonging to another landowner was particularly important to us because if we owned it we could join up our land acquisition.”
Chris is also a member of the Green Valleys Community Interest Company. When Green Valleys won a £50,000 grant from Santander Social Development Fund specifically to support food-growing projects, Chris pitched the idea of CIC buying the land and leasing it back to the Mill.
Chris said: “The land wasn’t publicly up for sale but we have been wanting to purchase it for some time, so we thought it was worth opening negotiations."
The Green Valleys CIC put in an offer for the asking price of £7,000 and also paid the landowner’s estate agent fee as an incentive, to smooth the process along and make sure the Mill got the land.
Negotiations with the estate agents were overseen by one of the Green Valleys directors, a landowner who has bought and sold several houses, and the group used a local Brecon solicitor. The whole process took almost seven months, from March – August 2013, and the group managed to put in some matched funding bids during that time to help develop the site.
Gareth Ellis, Community Projects Manager at the Green Valleys CIC said: “The timing was pretty tight on the bids. We had to apply after our offer had been accepted so that we knew how much the land would cost and that it was definitely ours, but before we had actually spent the money. We just squeaked in for deadlines to bids to the Brecon Beacons Trust and the Brecon Beacons Sustainable Development Fund and they have both awarded us about £4,000. That will go towards fencing, enabling wheelchair access, landscaping and planting £2,000 worth of plants.”
The Brecon Beacons Trust asked them to get an independent valuation of the land to make sure the asking price was fair. The Green Valleys paid £300 for the valuation and the Trust agreed to cover this as well. The land will now be leased back to the Mill for a nominal fee – probably little more than the £1 required to make it a legal transaction – until the company has the funds for a full purchase of the Mill and lands.
The Community Garden
Chris said: “The plan for the garden includes growing small samples of various cereals – rye, wheat, barley and so on, so we can show visitors what our stone-ground flours are made of. We’ll also grow herbs for the herb flours we sell and have some ornamental planting. We can now really make the garden the centrepiece of the land, with a linked walkway round it”
The Green Valleys CIC still has Santander funds available and is using some of this to provide matched funding to groups who already have some money for projects. They are also supporting allotments in the area. The CIC would like to make some more small land purchases, so are particularly interested in hearing from any other groups in the Brecon Beacons would like to purchase land.
Tips for other groups
Gareth advised other groups looking to purchase land to make sure they have a good solicitor (theirs offered a 10% discount to social enterprise and charities and was informative and fast-working) and to be prepared for unexpected delays. Gareth said: “There were some delays during the process, which caused a few hitches as we wanted to complete by June. We had to apply for change of use to turn the land from a domestic garden into land for public use, and we hoped to get that done this summer in order to start landscaping in September or October. The delay meant the change of use didn’t come through until November so we couldn’t landscape until next year.”
Green Valleys CIC was set up by community members in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2009. It aims to inspire and support communities to work together to reduce carbon emissions, generate income and deliver social and environmental benefits within those communities.
Brecon Beacons Sustainable Development Fund