Nurturing the Sacred Earth

New lending to a community-based food and farming enterprise has added to the accolades being given to the managers of the Co-operative Loan Fund.

Just two weeks after winning the Citi Microentrepreneurship Award for Effective Partnership in recognition of its work with the Just Growth Fund, Co-operative & Community Finance, which manages the Co-operative Loan Fund, has released another loan under this innovative programme, this time to Sacred Earth, a community land project that is reclaiming and nurturing a 40-acre site of an abandoned brickworks near the village of Horam in East Sussex.

The site is home to a number of nature-based ventures including the production of biochar (a form of charcoal), growing and processing of herbs, animal husbandry, willow production and basket making, ecotherapy, and a wide range of courses and workshops.

The project had been developing gradually since a local philanthropist bought the site in 2011, but last year it registered a community benefit society and launched a share offer. It raised £45,000 from a total of 170 members and this made the venture eligible for a grant and a loan under the Just Growth Fund.

Project manager Oliver Bettany said: “The success of the share offer has given us an enormous boost. We have spent the last few months putting in place new protocols to streamline the organisation so it is transparent and accountable to its members. We plan to hold our first AGM in September and we will be inviting our new members to discuss key issues and elect a management committee.”

Over the next five years Sacred Earth plans to increase the production and sale of biochar, expand its educational programmes, provide practical support and training for young rural entrepreneurs, produce food and medicinal herbs, establish a centre for ecotherapy, and look after the land for the benefit of the local community and future generations.

Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “Sacred Earth is an amazing venture that has attracted people who are passionate about nature and the environment. Now with support from Just Growth and the Co-operative Loan Fund they are turning a project about sustainability into a sustainable business.”