3 keys to public engagement
1. The power of a team
On 18 September, the recently formed Beaminster ECO Committee held its first public event – a Big Green Day, which was the town’s contribution to the national Great Big Green Week 18 to 26 September. The aim of the Day was to offer practical ideas on how we can all reduce living costs, cut waste, reduce our carbon footprint, encourage wildlife in our gardens, enjoy local food, plant trees and make our homes more energy-efficient.
The Day included children’s activities on The Square and in the Public Hall; a range of displays in the Public Hall; and free refreshments, including excellent soup made of organic vegetables. The displays focused on wildlife in your garden, planting trees, a beehive, the Green Living project, a food project, Open Greener Homes, retrofit of older houses, electric bicycles and an electric car.
Most striking was the strength of the wide team which organised the whole event. This team was drawn from the Town Council, Beaminster Area ECO Group, the Church ECO Group, Beaminster School, Young Farmers, Army Cadets, Scouts, Women’s Institute, Prout Bridge Community Centre, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Beaminster Probus and others – a total of at least 40 people directly involved in organising the event. The public response was strong, including many Beaminster people not previously involved in environmental activity. After the event, one of the participants commented “It was a wonderful day and I loved that everyone of all ages just got on with what they needed to do to bring it all together, without anyone seeming to be in charge. Great stuff !”
2. The power of practical examples
Beaminster and neighbouring villages have contributed 6 of the total of 50 Dorset Greener Homes within the programme organised by Dorset CAN this year. Two of these homes illustrate beautifully the power of an idea as seen in practice. A newcomer to the Greener Homes family is Ubuntu, a brand-new home on the northern edge of Beaminster created by Sue Wardell and Mark Oppe. It has high levels of insulation and triple glazing to passive house standard, solar PV with batteries, air source heat pump and mechanical ventilation/heat retrieval. Introducing the house, Sue says “We were inspired and encouraged by houses we saw through Dorset Eco Homes”.
In the centre of Beaminster is Honeysuckle House, owned by Gillian Perrott and Sue Counsell. Their house, built in 1997, has insulated walls, double glazing and loft insulation, achieving high standards of energy efficiency. The living area is heated by a gas-fired Aga, and a Norwegian Jotul wood-burning stove using timber from this their own woodland. In 2010, they installed 16 solar panels (capacity 3kW) on the south-facing roof of the adjoining barn. This year, they installed an air source heat pump, replacing the gas boiler for heating & hot water. On their first open day, 19 September, they were visited just by one local couple, and spent two hours with them. On their feedback form, the visitors said “It was inspiring to see the equipment in place and to have an explanation of the practical implications, problems and benefits. We intend to arrange a survey related to insulation generally and to installing solar panels and an air source heat pump”.
3. The power of public opinion
Parnham House, a fine historic house set in parkland on the south side of Beaminster, has for centuries been a major feature in the life and economy of the town. The townspeople were deeply shocked in 2017 when the mansion was destroyed by fire. They hoped for someone to take on the estate, with the resources to restore the building. So, they were pleased when, last year, James Perkins bought the Parnham estate, with the stated intention to restore the mansion. They welcomed the prospect of a restored historic building, and its sympathetic use as, perhaps, a hotel.
Then came an interview in Bridport News in which James Perkins, described as former head of the rave scene promoter Fantazia, spoke of his desire to turn Parnham into an “adventure wonderland where people of all ages can come and enjoy, creating hundreds of jobs in the process”. Local people began to fear what might happen on the estate. In July, the Estate submitted to Dorset Council an application for an entertainment licence, stating the intention to turn the whole estate into an ‘events venue’. The licence would enable it to organise a wide range of activities and events on the estate, including films, plays, musical and sporting events, with significant numbers of people. Included would be late-night activity, running into the small hours, with available alcohol and (on some occasions) amplified music. The estate proposed to build a pub, restaurant, shop and other facilities, alongside the restoration of Parnham House.
This application attracted a storm of protest from people living in Beaminster and Netherbury. Dorset Council’s Licensing Committee received an unprecedented number of objections, and very few messages expressing support. The outcome was a Committee Meeting lasting one and a half days, during which objectors argued passionately for restriction in the numbers of visitors, the frequency of events, the hours of opening and the parts of the estate on which large events, the sale of alcohol and the use of amplified sound could apply. In response, the estate manager stated that the normal maximum number of people attending events on the estate would not exceed 130; that events in larger numbers would be very few; and that the estate was ready to restrict the large events to a limited area surrounding the historic house and its associated buildings and formal gardens. Two days after the public meeting, the Committee published its decision to grant the licence, including most of the conditions which had been demanded by the objectors.
The next steps are likely to include planning applications for new buildings on the estate, which will be appraised with great vigilance by the local community. They will wish to see an outcome which is productive for the estate and which makes a strong positive contribution to the well-being of the local community and economy.