Monmouthshire County Council cabinet members will meet next week to discuss a plan by top television presenter, Kate Humble, to turn a local farm into a UK centre of excellence for rural skills. The scheme involves an innovative joint venture under which the authority, which currently owns the land, would retain a 30% interest in the holding as an investment.
Kate Humble, who has become well known for her programmes on farming, wildlife and rural affairs, and her BAFTA-winning TV producer husband Ludo Graham have lived in Monmouthshire for the past four years. Kate Humble said, “In coming years there is going to be increasing demand on our farmers and our land to provide food. Monmouthshire’s backbone is farming and it is justifiably famous as a place where good food is produced. We want to create a business which allows people from all over the country to learn about how good food is produced, and how to do it themselves”.
Officers are recommending approval for the couple’s proposal to acquire Meend Farm near Penallt on the banks of the River Wye to create a high-profile centre offering courses in sustainable farming skills, rural crafts and wildlife conservation. It would also become a flagship for renewable energy. The new centre would occupy a relatively small portion of the 118-acre Meend farm, which, under Humble and Graham’s proposal, would continue to run as a working farm.
A report to cabinet members says the enterprise would not only bring a financial return to the council but would become a ‘prestigious, prominent and iconic destination designed to stimulate growth in the local rural, food and tourism industries and celebrate ‘brand Monmouthshire’.
The council’s Cabinet Member for Modernisation, Enterprise and Communications, Cllr Bob Greenland said: “The venture would attract visitors from all over the UK providing a true taste of Monmouthshire as well as creating new jobs and a valuable learning resource for local schools.”
Council officers are keen to see the county benefit from the same ‘TV Tourism’ effect experienced by Axminster in Dorset following the River Cottage series which is now credited with attracting 30,000 visitors a year to that area.
Councillor Greenland said the couple were keen to work in ways that heightened the benefits of the centre to the local economy, and discussions were already taking place with local food, tourism and business leaders to ensure the impacts are felt as widely as possible.
Ludo Graham said: “We have wanted to open a centre like this for a long time, but location was the key. It is very important to us that this be a practical, commercially viable part of a working farm, which brings benefits to the wider community and the county as a whole. We feel we have now found the ideal location and are really excited that this could now come to fruition”.
Kate and Ludo developed their business plan for Meend Farm with the assistance of leading enterprise support agency, Venture Wales, whose managing director Phil Cooper described their proposal as “a very imaginative use of a traditional farm that promises to become a very successful operation, generating wealth across a wide area.
He added: “If it goes ahead, the local authority would see returns both directly through the financial success of the venture and also through the national profile it would undoubtedly create for Monmouthshire.”
The council’s cabinet members are due to discuss the proposals at their July meeting scheduled for next Thursday (28th July).