Placing trust in fresh approach to services for a greater good
OUT of work and not sure what direction to take, Mark Gale signed up for a government job creation schemes.
Little did he think that 40 years later, after a lifetime helping people in challenging communities, he would be the driving force behind one of the most unusual and innovative marriages of local interest, rural business and commercial realism.
In the 1990s Mark was a community worker in Matson, struggling to find a project to create sustainable change and long-term benefit.
He took the decision to have outsiders conduct an impact assessment on how the estates in that part of Gloucester could be re-engaged.
Mark, 61, said: “The communities had lost their way. People were no longer using the hill for recreation while jobs and health continued to be a problem.”
That assessment pointed Mark in the direction of the far-sighted of improbably complex idea of developing land a few miles south for a service station on the M5
Roadchef, one of the big players, had looked at the site in 1994 so Mark knew there was potential – he just needed to find partners to stump up the cash and convince farmers to sell the land.
The modern-day motorway knights arrived in the shape of national funding from the Tudor Trust and local money from the Summerfield Trust.
Mark talked the farmers into selling by emphasising the benefits to the community, chaperoned the project through planning and set about finding the right partner for his vision.
“We wanted to show local communities can create a significant business, a business that would bring value to producers and customers as well as provide jobs and support for people who needed the help,” he said.
Two hundred miles north, the Westmorland family business was already doing just that.
Their story began in 1972 when John and Barbara Dunning set up Tebay Services when the M6 cut though their Cumbrian hill farm.
They opened a 30-seat cafe serving home-cooked, locally-sourced food.
The Dunnings viewed the M6 not as the death of their farm, but the beginning of a whole new business chapter.
“It really was good timing,” says daughter Sarah Dunning, now chairman of a business that has six outlets across the country.
“We were thinking about the future and along came Mark with his slightly unorthodox, but very exciting idea.”
With Mark as the chief executive of the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, a registered charity designed to push through the services project, and the Westmorland family on board the site opened for business in May 2014 on the northbound side and southbound a year later.
The partnership enables the trust to benefit from a percentage of sales which go back into the community.
But it is not just about charitable donations, it is a more fundamental way of connecting business and com- munity for the benefit of both.
“We both get more out of it than we could generate on our own,” said Mark.
“There are 350 staff here, 98 per cent of them from Gloucestershire and 22 per cent from the target communities that kicked off this project.”
With its distinctive eyebrow architecture and a grass roof, it pushes against the norm of motorway services.
There are very few signs and none outside the main building.
“We had an advantage building from scratch,” said Sarah. “And we wanted to give a bit of calm. I think that’s what people want when they pull off the motorway.”
And calm they get. Plus enough toilets to accommodate a coach party, freely-available showers and even a pond with ducks to contemplate while sipping your eco coffee.
Inside the spacious building, 160 local suppliers stock the shelves with meat, cheese and fish through to bread, ice cream and crafts.
The trust works in partnership with local charities including The Nelson Trust, Play Gloucestershire, GL Communities, Fair Shares Community Time Banks and All Pulling Together Community Association in Stonehouse and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of Gloucestershire Gateway Trust and each of the local charity partners received grants directly from profits.
The promise of a guaranteed annual income from Gloucestershire Gateway Trust and Gloucester Services partnership will enable the charities to plan ahead and continue their work.
And what does everyone make of its success?
“This site is twice as busy as Tebay and we continue to keep very firm sight of our social objectives and business objectives,” said Sarah.
“This was a project many years in the making and it is wonderful to see it up and running doing what it was designed to do.”
And Mark, a former UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year who has pioneered community businesses and partnerships, is still seeing clearly.
“I make everyone who comes on a visit walk up to the top and view the landscape from the Cotswold hills to the Severn Valley with Gloucester in between,” he said.
“There are the people we are really serving. It’s a different way for business and charity to work together but it just works.”
Among those supplying the services are Deborah and Neil Flint who left behind their jobs in fundraising and IT to start a new adventure on a farm a few miles from the Welsh border near St Briavels.
That was seven years ago and having never farmed before, the Flints took a short course before they embraced the
rural lifestyle at Cinderhill Farm, named after the ash-black soil.
They are dedicated to keeping traditional native breeds, including Black Welsh Mountain sheep and British Saddleback pigs.
With extra income needed, in February 2013 Deborah began to produce pies in their farm kitchen.
Within six weeks the production unit for pies and sausage rolls was moved out of their domestic kitchen into the Pie House, one of the outbuildings.
Word quickly spread about the products and the Pie House has been through two upgrades.
The last upgrade took place in 2015 in response to the success of the produce at Gloucester Services.
The range includes the Original Cinderhill Farm Sausage Roll of Exceeding Enormity (made with real meat joints, low in fat), the Forest Ridgeback wild boar sausage roll and the Foggy (Forest Oggy, where oggy is another term for pasty).
Since providing the services’ farm shop with their first sausage rolls in May 2014 they have supplied more than £1million worth of products, around £2million at retail value.
In an area of rural poverty they provide seven full-time jobs, some parttimers and enough custom for two jobs at the local butcher.
“Gloucester Services has an influence way beyond that which can be easily quantified,” says Deborah, 55. “It offers a stronger future for our community and our county.”
A few miles from the services, the Vaughan family have been farming Hardwicke Farm for three generations.
Jess Vaughan knows the 80 ‘Ladies’ by name and milks them personally every day to ensure they are a happy, healthy herd.
They do not homogenise their milk, preferring to leave all its nutrients as nature intended.
The fresh milk takes just four hours to reach the services’ farm shop, delivered alongside yoghurt, cream and a creamy, tangy fermented concoction called kefir, which might just take off after exposure on The Archers of all places.
“Our herd are all individuals,” explains Jess, 37. “But most are more than happy to have a cuddle and actively seek attention. They are allowed to be who they want to be personality wise.
“The name Jess’s Ladies came from the fact that we were struggling for a name for our own farm-bottled milk.
“Then one afternoon I said I had to go because I had to get back and milk the ladies – and so it was done.”
Cinderhill and Jess’s Ladies are just two of the 130 producers from within 30 miles of the front doors and 70 from further afield.
Mark Gale at Gloucester Services and, below left, Deborah Flint at Cinderhill Farm
Jess Vaughan with Bunty, ladies at Hardwicke Farm