Victory for Surrey campaigners who saved wild meadow

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An ambitious community campaign to preserve a threatened 30-acre beauty spot in Farnham has been named winner of the first-ever Open Space Award.

The amazing success of The Bishop’s Meadow Trust impressed judges from Open Spaces Society and earned it the top spot, despite strong competition nationwide.

Left to right: Bob Milton (who nominated The Bishop’s Meadow Trust), Jean Macdonald (OSS vice-chairman), Jim Munro, Jo Alwyn, Gerri Smyth (all from The Bishop’s Meadow Trust), Tim Crowther (OSS chairman).

Jo Aylwin, chairman of the trust, attended the society’s AGM on Tuesday, 10th July 2012 where she was presented with a certificate to mark the victory. She said protecting the stunning meadow had been a daunting task but absolutely worthwhile.

“When we started the campaign we didn’t realise how much it would resonate with the community but it seems there is an unspoken agreement that people need open space around them – it is hugely important.”

The movement began when it emerged Bishop’s Meadow, described as a “green lung for Farnham”, was at risk of being sold to developers.

Philanthropist Sir Ray Tindle, founder and head of Tindle Newspaper Group, lives in Farnham and has had a long term interest in the meadows. When they were put up for sale he approached the family selling with a bid for part of the land. However, when he heard of the intention to raise the money to purchase the land for the community, he volunteered to buy it all immediately and give the Trust time to raise £210,000 to purchase the land back from him. He will retain about 2.5 hectares, as he always wanted.

Sir Ray has personally contributed substantially towards the Trust’s funds and has generously never charged interest. Without his involvement this project could never have got off the ground.

Residents were galvanised and set about raising the funds to save the land. They founded The Bishop’s Meadow Trust and are well on the way to reaching their goal, ensuring the meadow remains a community asset for generations to come.

Trust chairman Jo, aged 56, has lived in Farnham all her life. She said: “We really are absolutely thrilled with how the campaign has developed. The response has been fantastic and it feels like it’s all coming together now.

“We are very confident we will able to raise the final amount of money we need to reach our £200,000 target.”

She said the meadow was flourishing with more plants and new species of wildlife, including Peregrine Falcons.

Jo added: “We have learned so much about the meadow during this campaign. It’s so much more than just a field; it has a spirit which I think inspires people and that in itself is worth fighting for.”

The Open Space Award was launched this year to celebrate the efforts of those who protect, increase, enhance and champion common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public rights of way. It is hoped it will become an annual event.

Tim Crowther, chairman of OSS and a member of the judging panel, said: “The success of The Bishop’s Meadow Trust shows what can be achieved at grass roots level when local people work together with community spirit and a common purpose.

“We congratulate Jo and the people of Farnham who now have an outstanding area of accessible public open space close to the town centre for present and future generations to enjoy and cherish. Bishop’s Meadow is a deserving winner of our first Open Space Award.”

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