A guiding passion throughout my stewardship of Warnford was the preservation of rural community life with particular reference to employment and accommodation. Alongside our work in the 1970’s on tied accommodation and housing for retired rural workers, we developed a strategy to maximise local employment opportunities and diversify our income by making effective use of one of the legacies of my father’s pre-war pig enterprise, namely a portfolio of twelve redundant agricultural buildings which had been used for farrowing, weening and fattening pigs. These were all light and airy with solid concrete floors and their life-expectancy proved to be much longer that was probably anticipated when they were first built.
The availability of relatively low-cost accommodation of this sort proved to be an attractive opportunity for a number of small business owners who quickly established themselves at Warnford. Within a relatively short space of time we hosted an artist design blacksmith, a larch-lap fencing manufacturer, a garden machinery sales and maintenance business, a car service and MOT garage, a manufacturer of tubular steel work for use on livestock farms, a pony stud and the trout farm situated in Warnford Park and shown in the photograph below.
My experience as a Winchester City Councillor from 1986 to 1990 gave me a sense that as far as the practical application of the Town & Country Planning Act was concerned, there was no such thing as ‘country’ planning, but rather only ‘town’ planning in the countryside! Many of the proposals to convert redundant farm buildings that came before the Planning Committee were greeted with a kneejerk response about the unsuitability of industrial premises in the countryside. However, I do believe that our experience at Warnford helped to move the dial a little and (at his suggestion) we were delighted to host the Director of Planning and his entire team for an awayday as a great opportunity for showcasing the community, employment and heritage benefits of our approach.
I looked to further this cause beyond the village of Warnford and took on the Chairmanship of The Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas (Hampshire Branch). This became the Rural Development Commission in 1988 and provided advice to small businesses on a range of matters, including finance, marketing and construction. I also recall speaking on the subject at the South of England Agricultural Show at Ardingly and at a conference organised by Sparsholt College.
I am pleased that the initiative we launched in the 1970’s has proved to be such an enduring legacy in 2021. At a very rough count, the nine small businesses operating in Warnford when our stewardship came to an end in 1995 is now somewhere between fifteen and twenty separate enterprises spread across four principle sites.