Slindon forges ahead with community hub

Gilbert Bleathman, pictured in the Forge while it was still in its original use, taken around 1912
Gilbert Bleathman, pictured in the Forge while it was still in its original use, taken around 1912

A COMMUNITY project has rejuvenated Slindon since it opened last year.

The Forge in Reynolds Lane had served the community for more than 100 years, shoeing horses and producing metal works for the village.

After falling into disuse, a group of volunteers saw an opportunity to revive the former blacksmith’s building and turn it into a hive of activity to reinvigorate the village and resurrect it as an important focal point.

Since 2002, a pub, shop and post office have all closed, leading to Slindon being placed in the bottom six per cent of communities in the UK with access to essential services by the Communities Agency Indices of Multiple Deprivation.

The Forge’s project manager Mike Imms said: “We were left in an attractive and desirable place, but with nothing here. This problem is not unique to Slindon.

“The project, in effect, resolves two significant problems the village faced. There is the social cost of not seeing people, and the economic cost of losing jobs and business in the village.”

A group of residents and people who had a connection with the village formed the Slindon Forge Society to raise £200,000 to restore the 130-year-old forge.

The site was chosen for its excellent location and historic importance. Located next to the village hall, primary school and bus stop, it is also considered an important midway point between the village and Slindon Common.

“The site was very overgrown and the building had quite serious structural faults and damp problems, massive cracks in the walls and the roof needed repairing,” said Mr Imms.

“Where we’ve restored it, we’ve kept the character.

“We’ve spent a great deal restoring the building, but from the outside it doesn’t look like it’s changed.”

WORK WAS CARRIED OUT LAST SUMMER

The money raised meant the building could go through a complete restoration and extension which was carried out last summer.

With the help of the residents, local businesses, the South Downs National Park Authority’s Sustainable Communities Fund and the National Trust, the Forge opened for business in October, providing a place to shop, eat and meet. With the added extension, it now consists of a shop, which stocks essential items as well as locally-sourced produce plus a prescription drop-off point, dry cleaning and a Royal Mail Post Point, as well as a café.

“It doesn’t look like the Co-op,” Mr Imms added, “It’s what you would think a village shop should be, but often isn’t.”

The café provides breakfasts, light lunches and afternoon teas for villagers and visitors, using locally-produced ingredients and products.

The Police Community Support Officer also uses it to hold a monthly surgery.

Finally, there is an information point where residents can post and receive village news plus material about the Forge and leaflets with information about the village and the wider area.

The Forge has a 25-strong pool of volunteers (there is one full-time paid manager and two part-time paid employees) and is proving popular with young people in gaining work experience.

“The potential to do more is great. It is very much a community thing,” said Mr Imms. “It’s really 1+1=3, it adds to what is going on. What we’ve created in the Forge is something people enjoy shopping in and going to.”

You can find out more information by visiting www.slindonforge.co.uk