Take the LEAD 11 October 2019

Take the LEAD: Get ready for new beginnings and opportunities for funding in Rural Dorset

‘Our vision is to support the continuation of Community Led Local Development to deliver funds into the future, which should be based on the LEADER approach, which has delivered £2.95 million deep into rural Dorset, deep into rural business and into local communities.  Future programmes should be long term operating for at least five years on as rolling programme.’

A hundred people gathered at a conference at Kingston Maurward College on 11 October 2019 to consider the future and opportunities for funding in rural Dorset. Organised by Dorset LEADER; Northern Dorset and Southern Dorset Local Action Groups, the day was both a celebration of the LEADER programme in Dorset alongside an opportunity to look at the future demand for funding from land-based, business, community and tourism sectors.

The LEADER approach was launched over 25 years ago in rural areas and has since evolved into Community Led Local Development (CLLD), in both urban and rural settings.  It is a bottom-up approach, based on a local area and partnership working with integrated strategies, innovation, cooperation and networking at its core.

Local Action Groups are funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and with the UK’s expected departure from the European Union the LEADER programme in its current form will cease to exist next year.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit the LAGs hope there will continue to be support for Community Led Local Development in Dorset.  The LAGs trusted that the conference would help them form a vision to ‘Take the LEAD’ in developing any future funding programme.

Delegates were treated to some stimulating and informative presentations.  These included a few sneak peeks and first looks and new ideas and strategies.

There were some shared themes considered during the day:

  • Sustainable Inclusive Growth
  • Climate change
  • Dorset’s aging population
  • Equality between urban and rural areas
  • Connectivity
  • Collaboration
  • Increasing productivity
  • Natural capital & opportunities in Dorset
  • Value & effectiveness of Community Led Local Development

Luke Rake | Chair Dorset LEP Rural Enterprise Group | Rural Economy & South West Rural Productivity Commission  Presentation

Luke commented that the end of LEADER is the turning of the page to the next chapter. The themes for future as identified by the South West Rural Productivity Commission include connectivity, rurality and the aging population providing a challenge to retaining and developing a future workforce. Rural productivity lags behind urban areas, but the reasons are not universal. Simply copying urban responses will not work.

Success for the SW should be addressed via Sustainable Inclusive Growth


Ian Rodd | Managing Director, Ward Goodman | Future of Rural Business Presentation

‘If you remove the agricultural wrapping from Dorset’s rural economy …’

Ian explored the theme for future rural businesses further. If you remove the agricultural wrapping from Dorset’s rural economy, you will be surprised by what’s underneath – its as eclectic and exciting as any urban counterpart.

The natural and rural setting – is intrinsic to the brand of many rural based businesses; new generation of entrepreneur are drawing on traditional rural values but are forward thinking and progressive

The Rural economy needs a level playing field; anxiety over change is perhaps felt more in rural communities.  Achieving a ‘step change is an issue – having the people and resources to develop products, not being able to borrow for expansion, research and development.


David Emerson CBE | Chair, Action with Communities Rural England (ACRE) | Rural Community Led Development Presentation

David used this opportunity to announce new calls on government ahead of Brexit.

“We are calling on Government to invest in local communities by putting them at the heart of economic and service development in all rural areas. Learning from the LEADER programme, we should all be urging Government to make it possible for LEPs to commit to programmes of this kind in rural areas for at least five years and to renew these on a rolling basis. In order to accelerate the development of good practice, we are encouraging DEFRA to establish a national rural network of local programmes of this kind. We at ACRE believe there is an urgent need to step up our ambition for the rural economy and the contribution that the whole rural community can make to the nation’s challenges

ACRE encourages Dorset LEP to work with local ACRE member, Dorset Community Action to deliver CLLD across Dorset.


Mel Squires | Regional Director, NFU in the South West | Future prosperity for the agri-food and land-based sector!  Presentation

‘Team rural – a collaborative approach’

Mel’s presentation looked at current funding and what we know about proposals for the future funding landscape.  She described challenges for the agri-food and wider farming sectors leading to the NFU’s proposals to meet the climate change challenge – ‘Achieving Net Zero’.  Agriculture is uniquely placed to be part of the solution to climate change, as it is both an emissions source and a sink.

She concluded by endorsing a collaborative approach, asking ‘How do we work together to ensure an approach that emphasises the benefits from existing RDPE funding for our farming/agri-food/land-based/rural businesses, in the changing political, policy and funding landscape?’

Find out more about Achieving Net Zero https://www.nfuonline.com/nfu-online/business/regulation/achieving-net-zero-farmings-2040-goal/


Richard Smith | Chair, Dorset Tourism Association | An overview of Dorset tourism, key challenges, strategy and the future

‘Visitors buy Dorset better than we sell Dorset’

Richard began his presentation by looking at the challenges for tourism and growth.

  • One is to understand that jobs in the sector are diverse from valuable entry level to sophisticated jobs in marketing, IT and customer services. He asked delegates – ‘Where did you first learn your customer services skills?’
  • We can increase productivity in the sector in Dorset by addressing seasonality – increased focus on off-peak activity, alignment of funding opportunities and collaboration.

Currently half of our activity and use of fixed assets happened during the peak summer months. Fortunately, ¾ of tourism businesses recently surveyed are ambitious and looking to grow into off-peak tourism too.

He looked at future opportunities from the Tourism Sector Deal which will create tourism zones – further details will be published in Spring 2020 and Dorset’s tourism partners will want to be involved.

Richard finished by summarising the key recommendations of the tourism study – delegates were treated to a sneak peek of the report which will soon be publicly available.  This includes; addressing seasonality and boosting collaboration.


Lorna Carver | Director, Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership | Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy – Update & Emerging Content Link to slides Presentation

‘Dorset: Living better, performing better and naturally collaborative’

Lorna also gave the conference a sneak peek at some of the emerging content from Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) before consultation starts.

Separating the LEP area into rural vs urban talks about the differences not the similarities – the strategy will consider that people live and work across borders – between council authorities and between the countryside and towns.

The challenges for Dorset County Council

  • Productivity is negative against the national picture & the gap between areas within Dorset LEP area have been gradually widening
  • Not all residents have shared in economic growth – challenges to create conditions for more inclusive growth
  • The grand challenge the generational ‘time-bomb’ – Dorset has the oldest population and lowest proportion of under 50’s, anywhere in the UK; By 2040 we will have a dependency ratio of 1 (that’s one person working for every person of pensionable age).
  • How best can we help Dorset’s rural economy grow and develop the natural capital of our region?

Lorna shared a one-page response to illustrate emerging thinking – based upon a collaborative cluster of high growth & established sectors and its supply chain.

Fore more information about Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy see https://www.dorsetlep.co.uk/local-industrial-strategy


At the conclusion of the conference Sir Christopher Lees, Chair of Southern Dorset Local Action Group summarised the thoughts of the meeting in our vision:

‘Our vision is to support the continuation of Community Led Local Development to deliver funds into the future, which should be based on the LEADER approach, which has delivered £2.9 million deep into rural Dorset, deep into rural business and into local communities.  Future programmes should be long term operating for at least five years on as rolling programme.’

The £600,000 lorry that turns trees into wood chips

By Steve Keenan, Northern Dorset LAG member

On a disused World War II airfield in Tarrant Rushton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Tarrant_Rushton), east of Blandford, there is a fearsome crushing machine, one of only three in use in the country.

It’s called a Komptech Chippo and it’s a lorry made in Austria, a country that is world leader in creating energy from timber. There are no oil or gas reserves in Austria, but they do have a lot of trees.

The lorry reduces trees to chips in seconds: up to 100 tonnes of solid timber an hour. It can split anything over 1.2 metres with its onboard hydraulic splicer, use the crane to grab and lift a trunk and dispense chips by blower or belt. But Dan Upton isn’t satisfied: he’s going to sell the Chippo, probably to a wood recycling company in Ireland. And he’s going to buy a bigger one from Austria.

Dan set up Southern Wood Energy in 2008, on land he leases from two farms, including Abbey Croft Farm, where he was employed before setting out to build his own business.

The main storage area is an enormous hangar that used to house Lancaster bombers. The airfield was also home to troop-carrying glider operations during WWII – taking off from here to Pegasus Bridge, the first Allied troops to land in France on D-Day.

The runway has long gone, the concrete broken up and re-used to build the A338 Bournemouth spur road in the 1970s. But on a patch of hardstanding, alongside other Nissen Hut war relics, Dan has established one of the biggest wood fuel production companies in Britain.

There are eight boilers on site, fed on ‘ugly’ wood – pallets, poor grade trees, stumps, cut-offs and other waste. Some 10% of the wood that comes in is burned to heat air and reduce moisture to around 20% in the ‘good’ wood chips.

One brand new (Austrian) boiler will effectively turn the wood into gas, which is then burned to generate electricity – and will replace the existing generator, saving hugely on costs. And excess power can be sold to The Grid.

Some 100,000 cubic metres is produced annually and sold, mainly within a 50-mile radius, to customers including schools, care homes and hospitals. It is cheaper to heat buildings with wood chips rather than pellets. Containers are also packed and shipped to other customers, including the huge boilers at the Olympic Park, now home to 6,000 flats.

The self-contained (driver sleeping cab included) Chippo crushing machine is also on the move regularly: it chips 40,000 tonnes of timber a year on site at Heathrow Airport.

Where does the wood come from? From the many large estates in Dorset – while on site, a lorry lumbered in stacked with poplar from a land clearance in Child Okeford. No money changed hands – the estate was happy to have its land cleared for free.

Leylandii, oak and other species were ready to be chipped. There were also old fence posts beyond commercial use. Southern can also handle brash and smaller wood – and its biggest boiler, the 900C Froling (it’s Austrian) is able to extract stone and metal during the firing process.

There are nine people employed on site, with at least one engineer constantly on the road maintaining 20 wood chip boilers shipped and installed by Southern around the country.

It’s quite an operation. Dan has successfully applied for 40% grants for three separate pieces of machinery used at Southern, which typifies the type of project that LAG is looking to fund – sustainable ideas that create jobs while helping to manage woodlands and timber waste.

It’s a magnificent site, with big open skies and surrounded by barley and wheat fields. There are no neighbours to complain about noise, even when Chippo is going full throttle. They’re missing something: it’s quite a spectacle.