New era as locals inherit Somerset Moorlands
Thursday, March 31, 2011, Western Daily Press
After nearly three decades, a threat of demolition, a sit-in protest and
hundreds of hours of talking, a piece of Somerset's industrial heritage
now belongs to the people.
The former Morlands tannery, between Street and Glastonbury, is
Somerset's biggest derelict industrial site and has been decaying for 29
years since it closed in 1982.
But today, the Red Brick Building Centre will take over the freehold of
some buildings on the site of the former Morlands factory after raising
£440,000 to buy the buildings and carry out the first phase of the
The Red Brick buildings were owned by the South West Regional Development
Agency, which bought the entire site in 2001.
In December 2008, the agency announced it had no choice but to demolish
the buildings after security guards raised concerns over groups of young
people breaking into the site.
A week later, a group of 20 people braved sub-zero conditions, squatting
in the building to protest and decry the lack of consultation and lack of
progress on the site.
Many of them went on to form the Red Brick Building Centre Ltd (RBBC),
which hopes to turn the buildings into a community and commercial centre
offering starter offices, workshops, exhibition and community spaces to
In October last year, the RDA agreed to sell the buildings to the
community, providing it could raise the money before the end of
At the time, it said it had "reservations about the proposals and
particular concerns about how the project will be financed".
Sarah Sander-Jackson, secretary for the RBBC, said: "It is a double
celebration for us, because nearly all the money needed to develop the
first half of the building has come from the local community."
The group successfully raised the £440,000 needed to buy the building,
and begin work on the first stage. This amount includes £105,000 from 180
When banks refused to lend money to the project, RBBC set up an investors
club, who managed to raise a further £215,000 for the project.
"Some people were so incensed at the banks' refusal to support us in
any way that we formed the club," said Ms Sander-Jackson yesterday.
"This club is made up of local trusts and individual ethical
"We also received grants from two of the Clarks trusts and a small
loan from Co-operative and Community Finance, a specialist lender to
social enterprises." The rest of the money has come from local
investors and grants, as well as a scheme to collect scrap metal, run by
volunteer Robin Howell.
"Work will now begin on renovating half the building, so that it is
ready to let out as offices and studios and meeting rooms this
autumn," said Ms Sander-Jackson.
The group has also been working with pupils St Dunstan's School in
Glastonbury, who have been studying a campaign module as part of their