Hello again. I wrote a blog a few days ago on Saving Cleeve Common Golf Course and covered the essential points that I wanted to share with you all, given my background as a former Tewkesbury Borough Councillor and Licensing Chair, and with the connection with Cleeve Common that both I and my family have, given that my Father Chris was Warden of the Common for the last 15 years of his life.
As a lot of you have taken the time to read what I have said, I felt it only fair that I follow up and provide an overview of my immediate thoughts on how I would approach saving Cleeve Common Golf Course and the Golf Club, and what I would suggest that you all need to think about to get started if that’s what you are resolved to do.
This overview is not comprehensive, and neither is it intended to be. In fact, I’ll bet that you will start to think of things yourself as you read through it. This is how you can all begin to put together a plan that will work!
Before I say anything else, what I am sure of from reading the comments and the views that I have by following the Facebook Group Save Cleeve Hill Golf Course, is there is both the will and passion necessary to do all that needs to be done, providing that everyone involved can approach this project with an open mind and remains committed to seeing it through – even when those lined up against you sound convincing when they say that it cannot be done.
The next thing is probably the most difficult thing for many to read, absorb and accept:
This is not just about saving the Golf Course and keeping Golf on Cleeve Common. This is about saving a community resource that must have the same meaning for everyone, whatever the Club represents to them. So, every perspective needs to be accommodated in your plans for the future as if it is your own personal No1 choice.
Representatives of different community Groups with an interest in the Common, The Golf Club or Cleeve Hill have been commenting and saying they are doing this or they are doing that – with the inference intended or otherwise, that others need to fall in line behind their efforts, because what they are already doing is somehow more important and more credible in some way.
The reality is that none of you will succeed if you attempt to develop a plan for the Course and the Club that focuses primarily on your own use and aims for these facilities.
YOU MUST give equal weight and value to those uses, priorities and opportunities that are not only your own.
Golf is no longer sustainable in its own right on Cleeve Common.
The suggestion has been made a number of times that the Clubhouse could be pulled down and replaced with temporary buildings as a simple golf club and that the Council would be happy with that.
Please, please, please think this through again.
I have seen nothing to suggest that there isn’t a longer-term plan for the Clubhouse and Car Park site in mind that will have a return for Tewkesbury Borough Council.
Without a formal repudiation of this possibility and guarantee that the site will be used as a car park and nothing else in perpetuity from Tewkesbury Borough Council (if the closure goes ahead), I would suggest that all bets would be on a sale or development plan for the site coming into public view as soon as the facilities are fully closed, the Course has been returned to ‘common’ and there is a perception that the matter has been forgotten.
Your job now, is to come up with a plan that means more to the Council and how it is perceived by Taxpayers than what they might believe to be simple economic sense.
Saving the Golf Course and the Clubhouse have to be seen as one and the same. As the future of both as a community resource lies in them being saved, preserved and taken forward together.
Neither the Golf Course nor the Clubhouse will survive on their own.
Whilst the Clubhouse is ‘old’ and in ‘desperate’ need of renewal and refurbishment, I have no reason to doubt that retaining the existing ‘iconic’ building and actually making it the centrepieces of this project is the best thing to do.
Reports for local authorities and government organisations are notorious for having the conclusions spoon-fed to consultants as part of their brief. So it would take a lot to convince me that the structure of the Clubhouse is so far gone that in the hands of someone who wants to save it and is prepared to use creativity to do that, it cannot therefore be saved.
Finally, it is also vital to understand and accept that this isn’t just a Cleeve Hill thing.
It’s a Bishops Cleeve thing.
It’s a Winchcombe thing
It’s a Woodmancote thing.
It’s a Cheltenham thing.
It’s a Tewkesbury thing.
It’s a Cotswold thing.
And if you start to think about it in those terms, you will begin to see the wide range of possibilities for co-working, partnerships and the stakeholder engagement opportunities that are involved that are there to be seized. The ideas turned into action that can and will make this project work.
It is vital that you recognise that you have the power to achieve the goal of saving the Golf Course and the Clubhouse. But every time you pass on or ‘surrender’ that decision or choice to Politicians, to Groups, to the Council, to the Media or to anyone else who isn’t amongst those who feel and believe the same, part of the momentum and with it part of the sum of the chances that together will lead to success will be lost.
If it is your decision to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course and Clubhouse, Do it.
Don’t let anyone else convince you that the future of the ‘Club’ is anyone else’s to ‘own’ or dictate.
And bear in mind, action speak louder than words.
So, to the steps:
1.) Set up ‘Silver Linings’ – The management group and operating company
To be successful, you need to create a management group that will become the board of the operating company. Let’s call it ‘Silver Linings Leisure’. (You get it?!)
Getting the membership of this board right is important. The decisions they make on behalf of everyone will influence whether this project succeeds or fails, and what particular events or actions happen that will push it either way.
You ideally need 6-12 people who are not only committed to saving the Golf Course and Clubhouse. They must also be committed enough and be able to offer the time and energy over at least the next 6-12 months to take this idea and lead the process to make it happen – against all the odds.
Of the board, all of the key user groups should be represented and have voting rights.
Members of the board who are representatives of other community groups MUST have the delegated responsibility to make representative decisions there and then at meetings of the board – as there will not be the time to go back and forth to consult.
Don’t include politicians or anyone else who is an activist looking to gain, grow or enhance their public profile locally. Also don’t include representatives of the staff – or at least don’t let them vote on decisions if you really feel that you must do so.
PLEASE BE AWARE: ALL of you will be volunteers.
You WILL NOT be paid for what you are doing unless you become employed by the operating company in the future.
As a volunteer it is important to remember that everyone else is volunteering too and that you cannot treat others like they are doing a job or like they are employed.
Volunteers take on voluntary roles because they will get something from helping that may not be apparent to anyone else involved. If you make demands on them as if they don’t have a choice, they will very quickly walk.
Expect nothing. Appreciate everything that everyone else does!
2.) Identify your key officers and their responsibilities, agree a basic constitution and become a legal entity
Whilst this really will be a community effort, it is still essential that people take on the key roles and become identifiable as the ‘people to go to’ for those outside of ‘Silver Linings’ so that this specific project will work.
My suggestion is the key roles go to people who have experience of running and developing businesses or organisations, of working with a range of different people and probably have project management skills in the broader sense (Whole business unit rather than just a piece of work or delivering a specific project). They will know who they are, and I would encourage them to make themselves known to the group quickly – IF they feel they can commit the energy and time.
As a start you will probably need:
- finance officer/treasurer
- secretary/public point of contact
- social media manager
- media officer
- project officer
- purchasing officer
- an acceptance that the requirements of this project may need responsibilities to flow between
All of your new Officers must be happy having a public profile and be sure that there will be no conflict with their day jobs or any other roles that they have in the local community. (Conflict means anything that could influence them to change decisions or make decisions that they wouldn’t if they had not become involved. It’s the possibility that counts. Not whether they would or wouldn’t do it)
Write and agree your basic constitution:
You must become a legal entity to be taken seriously by the Council, the Board of Conservators and any other organisation (like funders and sponsors) with whom ‘Silver Linings’ wishes to become involved.
The constitution doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to cover the basic reasons for ‘Silver Linings’ being ‘constituted’ in the first place – and the key reason is widely known!
This document is also how where you divide up responsibilities and put together some basic protocols for governance and how decisions are made and where responsibility falls.
Register as a charity and/or limited company
Once you have your Officers and your Constitution, you can set up ‘Silver Linings’ as a legal entity.
In the first instance, setting up as a charity and registering a limited company would probably be wise. This is after all a community venture with a commercial drive, or what some people recognise as a ‘social enterprise’.
There will very probably be an accountant, solicitor and/or barrister based locally who would be supportive of the project and be prepared to help get this part of the process tied up so that the members of the board are protected right from the start. Find the right one and they may even take on one of your key board roles!
Set up a bank account
Coronavirus and the Lockdown has slowed down the process of getting business bank accounts open. So as soon as the Constitution is agreed, you have the names of your Board (and account signatories) agreed and you have ‘Silver Linings’ legally set up, you should get the process underway.
Ideally there should be a number of different signatories on the account and any payment should only be able to be authorised by a minimum of two.
3.) Arrange meetings with the Key Stakeholders
Meet with Tewkesbury Borough Council.
You MUST engage with Tewkesbury Council as quickly as possible.
Ideally you should meet with the relevant Portfolio Holder (Who I understand to be Cllr. Rob Vines), The CEO (Mike Dawson), whoever the delegated officer dealing with the matter day to day will be, and the Ward Councillor(s) representing Cleeve Hill should really be at the first meeting too.
The local Councillors should be included so that they can fulfil their role as local elected representatives. This IS NOT the same thing as representing your case directly to the Council and I would advise strongly against entrusting them to communicate with either the Council or with Council Officers on your behalf, as there is simply too much to lose.
Your primary aim at the meeting should be to identify what Tewkesbury Borough Council would be seeking in the first instance from ‘Silver Linings’ to take on the Lease on 1st April 2021.
This will include things like:
- Lease fees (rent)
- liabilities (who fixes what etc)
- duration of the Lease etc.
What the Council will want now may be different to what they will accept once a full proposal has been put together which is credible and demonstrates how the project will benefit the community (and the Council) both economically AND in other ways.
It is essential that you DO NOT approach the Council expecting them to give you anything less than the terms of what you know the existing Lease to be in the first instance.
This is The Council’s opportunity to set out its stall. I would be inclined to take what they say they will or won’t do very seriously, as this is the stepping off point and the basis upon which the ‘Silver Linings’ project can be built.
Record the meeting if they will allow you to. Do not do so without permission.
Take notes either way and write the minutes whilst the meeting is fresh in your mind. Run them past whoever was there from the board to check that nothing was missed or nothing was misheard.
Meet with the Board of Conservators:
Gauge how they feel about things and see what they can do to support ‘Silver Linings’.
Is there a way that you could support what they are doing and build it into the ‘plan’?
Please be aware that Tewkesbury Borough Council is represented by a Borough Councillor on the Board of Conservators
4.) Publicise ALL progress and be transparent
Publish the minutes of all meetings ASAP.
Send copies to ALL other parties so that they have the opportunity to challenge any conclusions from your notes or ask for changes and/or reviews.
Make sure that EVERYONE with an interest gets a copy sent directly to their Inbox and a copy is made publicly available on the website.
If you have someone who is good at writing and has time, think about starting a blog diary of events and everything that is being done. This will be a fantastic way to engage the local community and gain support as you go along!
5.) Set up a Crowdfunder
Saving Cleeve Hill Golf Course is enough in itself to get a Go Fund Me page (or similar) going right now.
Money will be needed for basic things like a website and basic expenses to begin with and its not a good habit for anyone to simply cover the cost of anything they do directly out of their own pocket without it being recorded.
Information like this helps with the business plan and could potentially be used in future funding bids if you ever apply for ‘match funding’ where a funder effectively offers to match what you are putting in from other sources – which could include direct ‘donations’.
Be patient about pushing a more substantial funding campaign. You will only be able to start putting the more substantive capital and revenue costs together as you go down this list and know what it will take financially to get the new ‘Silver Linings’ Clubhouse open and supported financially for an appropriate period until it breaks even, can sustain itself and then even pay back loans or better still, reinvest in the development of the ‘business’!
.Once the full project has been costed, that will be the right time to consider whether issuing shares in the new operating company would work. You will need to answer questions like:
- How much would they need to be?
- Will we be able to offer any dividends?
- If we don’t offer dividends, what will our ‘shareholders’ get in return
6.) Write your Business Plan
I’m not sure anyone who has ever launched a business likes writing their own business plans. It’s too easy to get carried away and think you already know everything that needs to be done, but it’s that same enthusiasm that can really catch you out.
Even if you didn’t need a credible business plan to show to Stakeholders, investors and anyone you might be seeking support from, it’s a really good idea to put the most comprehensive business plan that you can together and work out the costings down to a detailed level, making sure that you build in as much scope to cover unforeseen or unanticipated events and risks as possible.
Writing a plan can be tricky with a seasonal business like this one will be. The good news is you already know your handover date or rather the date that ‘Silver Linings’ will move in and takeover Cleeve Hill Golf Course and the Clubhouse if this project is a success!
You have a timeline and so you know when everything needs to be done.
The Council and The Board of Conservators will want to see a credible plan built around this timeline that demonstrates you have thought everything through and how the process of turning the business around will be worked through, when ‘milestones’ or key events in the timetable will be reached and basically, when everything that needs to be done will get done.
The key question:
The biggest part of the project will be refurbishing the Clubhouse.
I would suggest that the best way to do this will be to utilise all of the local tradesmen talent who already use the Club and aim to do something like DIY SOS where everyone mucks in over a period of a week or a fortnight to upgrade, install and refurbish the Clubhouse from top to bottom so that the new ‘Club’ and the services that it offers as a ‘Hub’ can all be offered immediately in a late April or May Bank Holiday ‘relaunch’.
Detail is important, so this isn’t just rewiring, repanelling, repainting.
- Can internal walls be moved?
- Can the bar be changed?
- How can the toilets be better planned?
- What facilities MUST we have?
- What needs to be changed to meet current legislation and rules?
You will need to agree on what the ‘Clubhouse’ experience will be. How it is now is how it has been for a long time and it’s going to need to be decorated and designed in a way that it maximises the strengths that it has.
If I was looking at this project on my own, I’d probably be asking questions along the lines of would it be possible to decorate the whole thing like an alpine or Rocky Mountain chalet with a centrepiece wood burner with Cotswold stone and reclaimed wood panels or something like that. It would fit with the whole thing.
Detail is really important to and as part of the revamp, I’d be considering the machinery area, the car park and the walls around the site too. NOT only what you think other people will see.
Also, could a neighbouring field be rented in the summer months to provide car parking perhaps?
Where is the added value for people going to be that is not obvious to see?
So how will ‘Silver Linings’ pay?
The USP or unique selling point of the Clubhouse and the Golf Course is the location.
The questions that need to be answered and thought through include:
- What services can be offered from the site that we can provide?
- What services can be offered from the site that a partner commercial organisation could and would want to provide?
- What local organisations would benefit from the facilities?
- What can the site offer tourists to the area?
- What services could you offer if you paired up with local stables, local hotels, local B&Bs, Local breweries, local distilleries, Local Schools, local community organisations and treated the Clubhouse as a local ‘Hub’?
What is important to bear in mind is that people easily forget that things they haven’t experienced themselves are there.
- How will you get new people in?
- How will you get them coming back again?
- How will you ensure that the customer/user experience is always as good as you yourself would want it to be?
Having a facility like this lends itself to year-round, all-day activities and sales opportunities if everything is thought through and is used as it should.
You will need a management in team that has the vison to see this and the wherewithal to implement it too.
But as I said in my last blog, the biggest responsibility for keeping people coming through the doors will be down to you.
7.) Get commitments from ‘contractors’
You will need an architect and/or surveyor to check out everything that can, cannot and must be done to the clubhouse.
Once you have a style and format agreed, you can then look at dividing up the different tasks to the different contractors and tradespeople that I mentioned above.
By this stage, you will have fixed dates in mind and you will be able to tell everyone who is able to volunteer when you will require their time.
8.) Think about getting sponsorship
The list of local companies likely to want to support a ‘feel good’ local community project might not be as long right now as it would at other times, but the opportunities for relationships that are mutually beneficial may have never been so good – particularly if you can sell a company’s products for them!
People have mentioned Julian Dunkerton from Superdry. Well he owns a Dunkerton’s Cider too and whilst the Clubhouse might not be on the Lucky Onion’s hitlist, a commitment to sell his Cider for a short time might get you a discount on the purchase price and be all it takes to get some help and expertise to redevelop the bar and kitchen area to see how it can be made to work best. They may well be happy to promote ‘Silver Linings’ too!
Cotswold Distillery, Hook Norton Brewery, Goff’s, Donnington Brewery to name but a few may all have an interest in you promoting their products. There are bakers, butchers, ice cream makers and all sorts of other great local producers too. So, pick up the phone and ask what they would be prepared to do!
9.) Think about starting funding applications
Once you’ve covered the bases above, you’ll be starting to get a much clearer picture of what ‘Silver Linings’ is going to look like and what its going to cost going forward.
But there are other questions to be asked such as:
- What investment will the Golf Course need to attract the players, membership and recognition that it needs?
- What resources does the Clubhouse need to become more attractive to other users – for instance would a minibus and a service down to Cleeve and Winchcombe be the help that it needs?
For a social enterprise that is aiming high to help the community, there will be funding options that can be considered for the long term. But they may not be available in the time that you would like and that’s where the cycle of funding and going back to crowdfunding and then issuing share options begins.
10.) Handover in April 2021
Never lose sight of this date. This is what you are working to. If you can’t be ready to take over the running of Cleeve Hill Golf Course and the Clubhouse on this date – it cannot be done!
OK. So this was a little longer than I thought it would be, but its really only a guide and a guide to what needs to be done as a start at that.
If I can answer questions about any of the above, please post them as comments on this blog below. I will aim to help wherever I can.
Best wishes and good luck to you all!