MEET THE CHAIRMAN OF THE FOSTER’S FIELDS RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION (amongst a list of many other things)
Michael Peart has lived in Sherborne for seven years, involving himself heavily in the community through proactive participation in many of the town’s clubs and committees. Currently, he is Chairman of the Fosters Field Residents Association, Deputy Chairman of the planned Sherborne Community Arts Centre, a Committee Member of ArtsLink, Immediate Past-President of the Rotary Club of Sherborne Castles and Chairman of The Tiltas Trust, a British charity created to exchange know-how in social areas with Lithuania. Michael is a retired British diplomat, reaching the end of his career as British Ambassador to Lithuania and British High Commissioner in Fiji.
Read the full interview with Michael Peart below:
Q: Sherborne is currently debating the development of a new housing estate at Barton Hill. In a relatively small town such as Sherborne, the addition of 230 new houses, bringing maybe 500 more people to the town, can cause quite a bit of controversy. About 12 years ago, there was a similar concern voiced about the planned development of Foster’s Field. Do you think there is any basis for concern over such developments?
MP: Understandably, with a growing population, there is a national need for housing and Sherborne should play its part. It seems to me that the Barton Hill project is almost like an infill, linking the A30 on the west side of town with the Marston Road. Such a development will need to pay great attention to the layout and the design but Sherborne Town Council and the West Dorset County Council have been very careful in preserving the traditional face of Sherborne to date. Nevertheless, for such a large development to go ahead successfully, potentially increasing the size of the town by 5%, attention must be paid to ensure that the supporting facilities are in place.
Q: Did the public consultation that took place change the proposed development in Foster’s Field in any way or place certain restrictions on the shape and size of the new housing area?
MP: Foster’s Field was a development of a limited size, surrounded by existing building, and was originally intended for 75 houses. Ironically, as a result of all of the campaigning and its coming under closer scrutiny, the plan ended up being approved for a greater density of 95 homes with smaller gardens.
Q: As newcomers to Sherborne back then, did the new arrivals encounter any residual bad feeling from people who had been opposed to the development?
MP: The town had gone through the process of campaigning against the development over a period of about five years and so to a certain extent it had entered into the mindset of many people. Some were a little cool to begin with but that soon dissipated as Sherborne is basically a very welcoming community. Many people comment favourably on the overall design of the homes and the development.
Q: Are there any lessons to be learned?
MP: Once a planning decision is given the go-ahead, following the lead of the Town Council, the whole town needs to get behind it so that the development can be as harmonious and beneficial as possible for the town. The more the new arrivals are welcomed the sooner they will integrate and become participating citizens in the life of the town.
Q: Given that there was a new community of about 150 people in Foster’s Field, you decided that it would be sensible to create a Residents’ Association. What was your motivation in doing so?
MP: In their position as newcomers, many people had mutual concerns or problems and forming the association helped to look at these issues as a group, as well as helping to create a sense of neighbourliness. We had also moved into brand new houses and so it was more effective to deal with any teething problems with the developer as a group.
Q: Seven years later, do you think the Foster’s Field community has evolved and is now a fully integrated part of the overall Sherborne community?
MP: Foster’s Fields has now become one of the most popular parts of town in which to live. The Residents’ Association played its part in welcoming everyone, plus there is an on-going social programme with events such as coffee mornings and a Christmas lunch. In fact, the development attracted a fairly homogenous group of people and there is a high degree of involvement with organisations in the town.
Q: You, personally, have taken a very active role in the Sherborne community. Can you tell us something about your current role in the plan to build a new arts centre for the town?
MP: The trustees are determined to emphasise the “community” part of the name, Sherborne Community Arts Centre. It will be the home to ArtsLink and is there to provide as many services as possible in the wider arts to the community, from the Arts Buffet for small children to art classes for older people. It also plans to target specific areas in the town aiming at involving hard-to-reach groups in areas that excite them. ArtsLink recently won a lottery grant of just over £70,000 a year for 5 years precisely to provide these initiatives.
Q: What are the challenges you face in funding such a project at a time of economic hardship such as we are experiencing?
MP: Central government funding for the arts has been reduced. There have also been cuts in a range of social areas so the demand for funding has increased; that puts pressure on anyone looking for funding at the moment. However, traditional funders are still giving and there is a need to put a convincing case forward to them. It is important to target individuals as well, perhaps those with a link to Sherborne and those interested in increasing social inclusion, providing opportunities for all members of the community to become involved in some aspect of the wider arts – from garden or jewellery design to art and sculpture classes and theatre outings to film screenings.
Q: What are some of your other interests in Sherborne?
MP: When I arrived I had an introduction to Rotary and so, after many years of moving around, I decided to join and get involved in the community. It is a credit to Rotary that in a town of this size there are 70 Rotarians, and of course there are all sorts of other organisations such as NADFAS, the Historical Society, the Douzelage and the Golf Club that I enjoy. The town provides lots of opportunities for different interests.
Q: Can you tell us what drew you and your wife to Sherborne in the first place?
MP: I was born and brought up in the South-East of England which is becoming very hectic: there are plans for a half million new homes in the Thames Gateway, a possible new airport, new motorways and rail links. We felt we would like to live in a more relaxed environment.
Q: What do you both enjoy about living in Sherborne?
MP: Friends invited us down to Dorset and we liked it very much, intending to look for a suitable village to move to. When we saw Sherborne we decided it was a very attractive place and we have never regretted for one moment our decision to move here.
MP: A Trust was set up by the Town Council to oversee this project and I was asked to be a trustee, one of seven under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Fry. We set out to produce a design that would have its feet in Sherborne but also be forward-looking – modern, practical and ecologically sound. We chose a firm of architects from Shaftesbury (Proctor, Watts, Cole, Rutter) as they understood the brief most closely and their design was the most striking whilst meeting all of the requirements. Feedback from the town was that it was universally liked and the design has now been approved by the town planners. This exciting project will provide the largest new public building in the town since the Digby Hall was completed in the 1970s.