One of the many differences between Warnford at the time of my father’s death in 1968 and the village today in 2021, is the extent to which its population is no longer made up of families who work in farming. Fifty years ago, the farm maintained 43 residential properties which included accommodation for 16 current and nine retired employees who lived in cottages that were provided as part of their terms of employment.
This longstanding arrangement in UK farming practice was known as ‘tied’ accommodation and enabled farms to benefit from having their workforce close by for the inevitable emergencies of rural life; at Warnford, cows only ever seemed to escape and trees only ever blew over on Sundays and Christmas Day! Whilst farmworkers and their families had the security of a home throughout their employment, the prevailing legislation did not offer much by of long-term protection. By 1976, some 53% of agricultural workers nationally lived in tied accommodation and there was an urgent need to tackle the critical issue of their security of occupation.
From the early 1970’s I was keen to explore solutions and engaged The Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies to make recommendations about how Warnford could make an effective response to this important issue. The result of this work was the Warnford Charter which was published in 1973 and signed by employees and owners alike. The preamble to the Charter set out its principal aims.
The present Owners of Warnford Farms acknowledge their responsibility as stewards of the land and accept the obligation to use its resources for the benefit of society and in particular for the local community.
The parties in this Charter are dependent on the continuing prosperity of Warnford Estate. The Owners of the Estate have a responsibility to maintain and use the Estate to provide for the Chester family. The Employees provide for themselves and their families by working on the Estate. As Owners and Employees are a significant proportion of the village population, the Owners accept the corporate responsibility of the Estate to the community of Warnford.
ln this Charter the Owners seek to acknowledge their accountability to the Warnford community; in doing so, they hope that this will give sufficient support to Employees for them to contribute to the wellbeing of the community as a whole while they work for the Estate and subsequently.
The Charter was titled ‘Freedom to Depend’ acknowledging the mutual inter-dependence between ourselves as owners and our workforce. As a key part of developing the report, The Grubb Institute met with every one of our employees and their partners in their homes and the single most important finding was that 15 of the 16 families interviewed said that they would prefer to continue living in Warnford in retirement.
In March 1974 we presented the Charter to everyone who was then working or who had worked at Warnford.
I was pleased that the Warnford Charter had some impact nationally and even made it into the Annual Report of the National Union of Agricultural & Allied Workers Union with the Editor's comment that ‘one swallow does not make a summer’!
The Charter (Revised Version 1978) is available at the link below together with an article that appeared in The Farmers Weekly on 5th April 1974.