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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Llanyrafon Manor a Food Hub in the making

The restoration of Llanyrafon Manor in Cwmbran is complete and it has opened to the public. For years the building languished in ruins, unloved, unwanted and virtually unknown despite being within half a mile of the town centre.

That it is now open and refurbished is a triumph of local activists and grant funding, local people working with Torfaen County Borough Council and the Welsh Government to develop a unique site and prepare it for future use as both a historic venue and a base for future local activity.

Much of the funding is delivered through the Rural Development Plan and the future will involve support both - and from local farmers, producers and community groups.

This link was very much to the fore at the official opening with a small Market section offering foods and crafts and giving a platform for Community Groups such as COSTAR and organisations like Friends of the Earth. What they all had in common was a commitment to supporting and sustaining local people, businesses and our environment.

Community Food groups are encouraging residents to garden and grow their own vegetables, rather like the Grow It Yourself (GYI) movement in Ireland, and they had established a stall in the Orchard area offering a chance to identify a number of salad plants and herbs. Some were not that easy – Red Mustard and both Rocket and Wild Rocket along with Mizuna in one planter- and I was reminded of the Herb Exam at Ballymaloe especially as part 2 of the test was to design a three course menu using the plants.

Children were encouraged to roam the grounds identifying bugs and which were beneficial to a balanced ecosystem and their parents were given charts showing how their flower gardens could become more Bee friendly via planting. The tie in here with local rural crafts was the presence of a maker of Bee Hives and simple logs with holes drilled in them to encourage Bees to take up residence. The Honey produced by the Bees was available to buy from one of the stalls.

The local Blaenafon Cheeses made by Sue Fiandr Woodhouse sold well though the newest one Canalman’s Cheddar had sold out even before the show. Again the tie in with locality and rural development was clearly demonstrated and the Pwll Du cheddar – unique for being matured in the Coal Mine at Big Pit – is featured in the Tea Room at the Manor.

Julie Nelson from Raspberry Catering runs the tea room and is committed to using local produce where possible so the tie in with Blaenafon Cheese is a no brainer. Julie already runs her catering business using locally produced ingredients and the Raspberry Bush Supperclubs – see earlier post- often use ingredients produced about 100 yards away!

The one thing lacking in Torfaen is a good craft baker so most of the bread that Julie uses comes from Newport, still very local but a Torfaen baker would be a great asset.

Luckily the Manor has several out buildings and it is possible that one could be used to establish a Community Bakery, run as a Social Enterprise, offering Real Bread to the community, businesses and schools. Part of the remit for the bakery would be to offer skills and training to unemployed people and to work with schools in spreading the knowledge and love of real bread as opposed to the synthetic stuff used by most households.

The grants available through the Rural Development Programme would help in the creation of a bakery and the overall experience of visiting the Manor would be enhanced if visitors could see the bakery in action. They seem to be symbiotic.

The ground floor of the Manor reflects its history, the Kitchen has good displays of old Butter Churners and Butter Hands used to shape the finished product, Sugar Snips and a table groaning with foods, as well as an interactive display about Wartime Eating and Rationing. Costumes across the 400 year history of the Manor are on display and on opening day tours were conducted by staff in costume, including Jacobite Ladies and Gentlemen and Land Girls to tie in with the Wartime exhibits.

Upstairs are modern Committee Rooms suitable for Schools to use on visits and, most importantly for Community Groups to use for meetings. The Local Action Group and Producer Groups meet there to plan for the future use of the Manor and to develop more ties with the community both businesses and residents.

One plan is to establish a regular Producer Market at the Manor, Torfaen currently does not have one, and the first is planned for October on a Sunday so as not to clash with Farmers Markets in the area. The Market would combine both Food and Crafts to fulfil the Rural Development Brief and could well be a major boost to the local economy.

Certainly with the planning around the Manor, the intention to use it as a hub for community groups and small scale producers, and as the site for a regular Market Llanyrafon Manor has the potential to be Local and Great.

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