The thing is, there’s pretty much no limit to what we could do here. There’s certainly no limit to what we could spend our money on. It’s all a balancing act between keeping us afloat and not destroying the unique, private feeling of the place. But on a daily basis we have to make decisions, and it often comes down to whether our investment (financial or otherwise) is going to pay us back in time.
I am no economist (and frankly no farmer), but I have designed myself a slightly shaky analogy involving cattle to help with financial decision making at St Clere. We distinguish between investing in beef cattle versus investing in milking cows. Our wood chip boiler is a beef cow; after 10 years it will have been cooked, met its maker, paid itself back or not. It will need replacing and a fresh return-on-investment (ROI) decision will need to be made. Converting a derelict barn into residential is a milking cow, after 10 years it will still be yielding, and will continue to do so into the future we would hope.
So the West Yaldham development is an obvious ‘milking cow decision’. If it were a beef cow we would seriously be looking at options for veal because the 5 year ROI (i.e. the money invested is paid back within 5 years) that I understand is bread and butter for most developers is pie in the sky for us. The problem we’ve got is that unlike those developers who can create a problem and sell it away, we always have to live with our decisions; so we have to look at what would be best for the entire estate over the next 50 years rather than simply looking at how to maximise our income. As a result we have focused on creating what we hope will be a lovely place to live and work and are staring down the barrel at a more than 20 year pay back time. It only really moves away from insanity if we can still make income from the project in 20 years.
That’s what I spend my time thinking about, but it’s nothing compared to what Simon spends his time on. Trees. Now that’s a real return on investment calculation. The work he does on the trees and hedges have very little tangible financial benefit. It’s all about investing in the future. Not a future he’ll ever see, mind you. Probably not even our children will see the fruits of his labour although they may be heated by chip from some of the trees he is planting. There are so many trees that blow my mind around St Clere. There’s a row of oaks below the cross drive that would have been alive when Ann Boleyn’s father owned the St Clere land. But all those years ago someone took the time to plant them, keep them alive, and stop them being swamped by brambles over the first decades of their life. All that time and effort, no return on investment whatsoever for them, and yet utterly priceless for us.
As I say, blows my mind.
By Eliza Ecclestone