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Steve Harris: Vanora Hereward and the lasting legacy of Toller Porcorum

PUBLISHED: 16:56 13 June 2016 | UPDATED: 16:56 13 June 2016

Opening of Hereward Close: Rorie Geddes and Colin Baker from Toller Porcorum CLT; Cllr Jill Haynes (West Dorset District Council),  Evelyn Whitcombe, postmistress and Martyn Blackman (Development Director, Aster Homes)

Opening of Hereward Close: Rorie Geddes and Colin Baker from Toller Porcorum CLT; Cllr Jill Haynes (West Dorset District Council), Evelyn Whitcombe, postmistress and Martyn Blackman (Development Director, Aster Homes)

Archant

Vanora Hereward gave Toller Porcorum a lasting legacy to treasure and has hopefully inspired other Dorset communities to take control of their future survival

The name Vanora Hereward sounds like it belongs in a fairytale, alongside dragons and trolls, princes and witches. But as this is Dorset Magazine, rather than Far Far Away Monthly, you might not be surprised to learn that Vanora’s story is one firmly anchored in fact rather than fantasy.

Its setting is Toller Porcorum, a charming little village about ten miles to the north west of Dorchester. Like other Dorset villages it faces the same issue that befall so many rural communities across the UK. The village school was closed in 1980, the village pub served its last pint in 1999, and escalating house prices meant that much of the housing stock was rapidly becoming unaffordable for people who work locally.

Enter our heroine Vanora. She had lived in the village for long enough to see this gradual depletion of resources first-hand, and resolved to do something about it. So at the end of the last century (we’re talking late 1990s), when the old post office closed down, she convinced her father to give up a small corner of his cottage as a makeshift replacement.

Makeshift was certainly an apt description of this bijou village post office. It was a ten foot square room with a door so small that anyone more than six foot tall had to stoop to enter, and the whole operation regularly flooded which meant it was disconcertingly popular with rats. But it was a fully functioning post office, and sold stamps and paid people their pensions.

Vanora though wasn’t satisfied, and was driving forward with more impressive plans when, in the summer of 2012, she was found dead at her home after suffering a fall. At the time of her death she was one of a number of villagers who had formed a Community Land Trust (CLT) with the aim of building a brand new village post office and affordable homes. In her will Vanora bequeathed a parcel of land to the trust so this dream could be realised. With a massive push from the remaining members of that CLT and with help from the District Council, the local MP and a body called Wessex Community Assets, the village got those properties and post office built.

When I visited Toller Porcorum earlier this year, I’m pleased to say that Ratty and his friends were nowhere to be seen. The brand spanking new purpose-built post office was practically gleaming, and, in the half hour that I was there, I must have seen half-a-dozen customers pop in. The six affordable homes are spacious and well-appointed and, more importantly, are held in covenant by the village so they can only be rented to people with a strong connection to the local area.

The new development is called Hereward Close after its generous benefactor. I was genuinely impressed to discover that the group of people who made this happen are farmers and retirees, with no previous experience in this sector. What they all have is a belief in their village and a willingness to sacrifice their time to make it a better place.

Toller Porcorum is not unique in setting up its own CLT. Wessex Community Assets tell me they’ve worked with Marshwood, Symondsbury, Powerstock, Maiden Newton, Lyme Regis and Sixpenny Handley to get affordable homes built. And while Toller Porcorum was lucky to have a driving force like Vanora Hereward, projects like these can only succeed when communities take responsibility for their own sustainability.


Steve Harris

Steve lives in Penn Hill with his wife Angie and their cats Aristotle and Moses. The half Welsh, half Italian radio presenter came to Dorset five years ago to work at BBC Radio Solent. Since then he has fallen in love with the county and enjoys discovering more about it. He presents Breakfast in Dorset weekdays 6.30 - 9am on 103.8fm and DAB Digital Radio.


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