Inside story: The Harrogate woodland campaign that became a 'phenomenon'
It has been the most popular public appeal in Harrogate living memory, so why not just keep it going?
Smashing a £300,000 target in just six months is a fantastic achievement for the team behind the Long Lands Common project based near two of Harrogate’s most cherished outdoor spots - the Nidderdale Greenway and Nidd Gorge.
Support has poured in from all ages and all sides - residents, schools, community groups and businesses - since the campaign was first launched in April.
But, having raised the funds to purchase a 30-acre green belt site to create Harrogate’s first community-owned woodland, the volunteers have decided to celebrate their success in a practical way - by setting a new target of £375,000 and extending the deadline to buy shares for another month.
Long Lands Common spokesperson Chris Kitson, who is a teacher in Harrogate, said: “This is a fantastic achievement. The support of the public has been phenomenal.
“When we became aware of the 30 acres of land for sale at Long Lands Farm, and the suggestion was made that it would be a good place for a community woodland that could contribute to the new Northern Forest project - to plant 50 million trees across the North of England.”
A man with a huge pedigree for championing conservation in this part of Harrogate, Keith Wilkinson, has backed the project from the beginning.
Mr Wilkinson, who is the honorary secretary of Bilton Conservation Group, said: “Long Lands Common promises to be an amazing natural resource available to all.
“Just imagine how it will look in ten, 15, 20 years’ time as its planned trees grow and wildlife moves in.”
From the start Long Lands Common has been a text book case of a well-organised campaign.
Before the share offer was even launched, volunteers had set up Long Lands Common Limited - a social enterprise, with the legal status of a Community Benefit Society.
It has also insisted that, though individuals and groups have been able buy as many £50 shares as they like, each person can only have one vote in order to ensure that the community retains control of the woodland in future.
But the organisers themselves believe the popularity of the Long Lands Common campaign is not simply the result of hard work.
They are convinced that raising £300,000 without institutional support or big name backing reflects a sea change in public attitudes.
The campaign was born in the final months of another recent battle to protect Harrogate’s environmental riches.
Long Lands Common committee member Rick Brewis, who owns land elsewhere in the Nidd Gorge area, said setting up the woodlands was about more than just preventing any risk of a new relief road “spoiling” the area.
Mr Brewis said: “After we won the battle to stop a relief road, 30 acres of land belonging to a neighbouring farmer came up for sale. We thought if we could buy that and plant a community woodland it would stop the road idea from being raised again and create something for future generations in Harrogate and Knaresborough to enjoy.
“When I found out we had hit the original £300,000 target, I thought “crickey, that’s fantastic”. People have been so generous. We’ve even received donations from people abroad.
“Let’s keep it up and hit our new target and get on with it!”
As chair of Nidd Gorge Community Action, Chris Kitson himself was in the thick of the three-year campaign against the ‘Nidd Gorge Relief Road’ proposed by North Yorkshire County Council as one of many possible measures to tackle traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
He now sees Long Lands Common as a natural continuation of that previous battle.
Mr Kitson said: Throughout our successful campaign against any idea of a Nidd Gorge Relief Road we were telling people how bad the proposed road would be for our environment, our wildlife and for future generations.
“After asking people to say ‘no’ to something we opposed for the last three years, this time we are hoping we can give out a positive message at a time when everybody needs some hope for the future.”
All further share sales until the new deadline of December 20 will be used to fund the infrastructure projects that will be needed to transform the piece of empty farmland between Harrogate and Knaresborough into a publicly-accessible green space as quickly as possible.
The spades may not be quite out yet to start turning Long Lands Common into a green haven owned and controlled by the community but the volunteers believe they have already built something to last.
Mr Kitson added: “Long Lands Common marks a new direction for Harrogate and Knaresborough. It is proof that there is great enthusiasm and demand for a greener, more sustainable way of life, where people can have more influence and a greater say in shaping the communities they live in.”
How you can still play a part in Long Lands Common project
Now that the November deadline to raise the asking priceof £300,000 has been met and the project is definitely going ahead, the Long Lands Common board have announced that they are extending the share offer for a further month, until December 20, to try and achieve their maximum share sales target of £375,000 and also enable people to buy shares as Christmas presents.
All further share sales, over the next month, will be used to fund the infrastructure projects at the site near the Nidderdale Greenway that will be needed to transform the farmland into a publicly accessible green space as quickly as possible.
People can buy shares as individuals or as businesses or other organisations.
Anybody still wanting to become a shareholder in Long Lands Common and help towards the new target can buy shares online at www.longlandscommon.org or phone 01423 560283 to request a paper application form.
Shares cost £1 each and the minimum investment is £50, which buys a lifetime membership and shareholding that you can pass on to future generations to help protect our greenbelt long into the future.
Shares can be bought as gifts for friends and family.
Shareholders must be over 16. Organisations can also become shareholders providing they are incorporated.
The share sale will definitely close on December 20, 2020.
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