Below is a copy of the open letter which we have sent to every councillor and senior officer who works for SMBC.
Those of you who’ve been following our plight with the council will know of the number of attempts we’ve made to work alongside SMBC in order to keep The Garden House OPEN!
This is our final attempt, and last ditch effort, in order to help prevent us going to a costly public inquiry.
We hope that the council are able to see not only the fantastic service we provide to the local area, but also are able to see the phenomenal level of public support we have, with over 24,000 signatures of support on our online and paper petitions, and have had countless organisations, groups and individuals we work with send in their letters of support to the planning commissioner.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us – our supporters give us the energy and fortitude to carry on.
The Garden House Team
The Garden House,
14th May 2020
We hope this letter finds you well in these challenging times.
We are writing to you concerning The Garden House (MARPLE) Charity, and their protracted case with SMBC regarding their planning application (case number APP / C4235 / C / 18 / 3216897).
We would like to give you a little more information about The Garden House (MARPLE) Charity, and encourage you to support our cause should our case end up at a public inquiry.
The Garden House is a registered charity (Number: 1182133) and community farm in Marple, Stockport. Set across 27 acres, we have a variety of animals on site (including pygmy goats, alpacas, pigs, chickens, Shetland ponies, an aviary, ducks, geese and rabbits, to name but a few), and we focus on providing families, organisations and charities with a safe space in the Cheshire countryside, where they can come and learn about nature and the environment. We don’t charge an entrance fee, and rely wholly on donations from the general public, local groups who visit, and other organisations.
We work especially closely with groups who care for children and young adults, in particular those who work with disadvantaged children and those with complex needs, including Stockport Youth Offending, the Seashell Trust, Pure Innovations, the Together Trust and Melland High School.
We also work with Stepping Hill’s neurological unit, allowing their patients to come and use our animals and site for therapeutic reasons. We also have a paramedic, who was an attending medic for the Manchester bombing of July 2017 and who has PTSD, who comes to our site for respite and to volunteer with the animals.
To compliment our work with such groups, we are currently in the process of creating a specialist sensory garden on our site, for use in particular by our partially sighted and blind visitors, for which we have received funding from the National Lottery Local Fund for, making our site even more beneficial to those with complex needs.
Additionally, we carry out environmental work, helping to raise awareness of current issues and teaching visitors about the local ecosystem here in Marple. We have been granted 420 saplings from the Woodland Trust for our site as part of their “Large Scale Planting Scheme”, and these saplings will enable us to teach visitors about the importance of trees as part of our environment, and also how trees are grown from saplings. We also encourage our visitors to use public transport to visit our site, providing a free hot drink for those who travel to us using the train or bus, and we regularly promote this on our social media pages. This scheme is not only beneficial to the environment, but also lessens the strain on surrounding highways too.
We further regularly invite local school children, most notably those from Brabyn’s Preparatory School in Marple, to come and learn about the local environment, and just last year, with the help of the Environment Agency, we took the initiative to release 250 barbel into the River Goyt with the children in order to teach them about the river’s ecosystem. We also have the ‘Inside Out Forestry School’ use our site on a weekly basis, where parents and their children are able to learn about the outdoor world and partake in activities surrounding outdoor education. Further to this, we have special cameras on-site where visitors can view our badger sett, and learn about these nocturnal animals.
Moreover, on site we have raised beds, an orchard and a polytunnel, and we also help to teach children who are less able to set lobster pots for the crayfish, and also fish in the River Goyt using specialist equipment.
We work closely with the Greater Manchester High Sheriff’s Police Trust, who we have also received funding from, and with whom we host an annual small event with their police dogs and horses to teach families about the work these fantastic animals carry out for the police. Events such as this one are strictly ticketed and the number of people attending is well managed to prevent an unmanageable influx of visitors to the local area. We have also enlisted the help of police cadets in the past to help us manage such events.
We have had visits from the High Sheriffs of Greater Manchester over the past few years, as well as visits from previous Stockport mayors and mayoresses, who have all shown us their considerable amount of support for the service we provide to the local area.
Our site is also an essential area for many walking groups and cyclists who use the public footpath, which is the missing link in the Goyt Valley way, and our site enables them to use our sanitation facilities as there are no public toilets in the immediate vicinity. Our bathrooms also have a baby changing facility as well as facilities for the less able.
Animal welfare is especially of importance to our charity, and we focus on teaching our visitors about animal well-being, particularly in the setting of farm yards, and we also work alongside local colleges to offer a b-tech course in animal welfare. Furthermore, some of our on-site animals are rescue animals, and to ensure we have the utmost animal welfare, we have regular checkups and visits from our vets, Knox and Devlin, as well as inspections from the RSPCA.
Our site itself is of huge local significance, and we have worked alongside Marple History Group to uncover some of our site’s historic background, and as such teach the general public about Marple’s local history. ‘The Garden House’, the ruins of which are on our site, was built by Samuel Oldknow as a home for those who worked on the land and the site was used to grow food for workers at his Mellor Mill. We also have the entrance to three historically significant tunnels on site, linking The Garden House to Mellor Mill.
Long term, we aim to rebuild ‘The Garden House’ building for use as a recreation, education and learning centre, focussed around Marple’s local history, as well as animal welfare.
We urge you to support our cause because we are the only organisation of its kind in the local area, providing everyone with an outdoor space to explore regardless of economic circumstance. The benefits of outdoor time are far reaching and well recognised for their importance, including benefits to mental health, as well as learning about the environment and importance of sustainability.
In unusual times such as these, the benefits of charities like ours are far reaching and fill the void left by the government, and we are saddened that, despite our best efforts to work with SMBC, we could still potentially be facing a public inquiry to fight our case.
We have been very forthcoming in communicating with SMBC, and have tried our very best to satisfy their demands in order to prevent our case ending up at a costly public inquiry. We have removed the shipping containers which were situated on our site’s car park, as suggested by the planning committee, and this has enabled us to provide car parking for an extra five cars. We’ve also enlisted methods, outlined above, to encourage visitors to use public transport to visit our site, in order to take the pressure off the local highways situated near to The Garden House. Further to this, we also ensure that on the rare occasion we host a charity event on our site, that these events are well managed and don’t cause chaos in the local area.
Unfortunately, despite our very best efforts to work with the council, including numerous letters and emails, meetings, and site visits, the future of The Garden House as it is currently is still under threat.
We further hope that you can appreciate the strength of local support, as we have close to 24,000 signatures at the time of writing to your good self, in support of The Garden House to allow us to stay open and operating as we have been before.
A short video explaining more about The Garden House can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Olyz63WWMS4
We urge you to support our cause should our case end up at a public inquiry.
The Garden House Team