It’s difficult to describe what it’s like running an estate, I’m drawn towards analogies to help. When my Dad ran St Clere my analogy was that he seemed to manage the whole thing with one finger on the steering wheel of a car with low revs and quality power-steering. When I took over it felt like I was driving the ford escort I inherited from my granny 20 years ago, it didn’t necessarily drive straight, it only sometimes slowed down when I hit the brakes and trying to park the thing was like a full body work out.
But I’m five full years in now and I reckon it’s the wrong analogy. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll share my new one.
You know when you get an Ikea flatpack delivered and it’s got a few holes on one section, and a few screws on the other? You have to line them all up with each other before you can start the actual build? And you find that you can get them all roughly in the same area but when you try to move one into precisely the right place, all the others are out of place? Well THAT is what it’s like trying to run St Clere. A constant battle to get things lined up.
The farm development is a perfect example. We had no idea whether we were going to get planning permission, but there were about a million hole/screw combos that couldn’t be lined up until we knew about that. Firstly, we needed to line up whether to expand our forestry department in order to produce the extra wood-chip to supply the biomass boiler which would heat the development. If so, we needed to line up grant applications and build a suitable wood-yard and get a forestry team up and running. These things take a huge amount of time and are too expensive to do if we weren’t going to end up with planning permission. Then, the builders who were supplying the quotes which informed the economics of the project needed to be ready to go ahead with the build. How could they prepare themselves for a year long build project (turning down other work, employing extra staff etc) if we had no idea of when it would start or even if it would go ahead? If we delayed the start further in order to allow everyone breathing space, the quotes they had provided would all be out of date and the whole thing would have to start again. Finally, to arrange finances for a project of this sort is a huge deal obviously. There are a handful of projects across the estate that we’d like to undertake which will take substantial investment; we had to move forward with exploring these projects knowing full well that they would all be abandoned if the farm development went ahead. There are many other examples but you get the picture, every extra delay in our application (and there were many) caused ripples right across the estate.
So here we are with a project that doesn’t quite line up, the compromises we made to get planning permission have put it all out of line. But (and this is my final analogy, promise) at least it’s a bird in the hand. At least now we can get professionals in with blooming great chain saws and get going with turning our Ikea Flatpack into something that works for us. Work starts today, I’ll keep you posted.