Long neglected farm buildings in rural Worcestershire were renovated to provide a home for The Fold Bransford Community Interest Company, as Jane Cox and Will Tooby explain, a social enterprise that "makes a stand for creativity, sustainability and health"
It's always sad to see redundant and neglected farm buildings blighting a beautiful view of the English countryside. That's why husband and wife team Jane Cox and Will Tooby decided to patch up their own corner of Worcestershire by setting up The Fold, a collection of restored barns that has been a place of inspiration since 2007.
It's now a community space with nine vibrant work studios for local designer-makers who trade in traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. There's also a 50-seat café, a natural therapy centre and The Fold care farm.
"The farm is about looking after the land while looking after people," says founder Tooby, who is from a farming family and was working as a life coach before The Fold.
"It helps people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, while growing organic produce for the café. We get visitors from all over the place who come and enjoy our facilities and say we're a haven. We are a centre that is making a stand for creativity, sustainability and health."
The CIC structure seemed ideal for fulfilling The Fold's objectives. It enjoys the benefits of being a social enterprise for the community, such as lower business rates, but it also has greater flexibility than a charity.
Although the legal form is not advertised to the public, Tooby says he is proud to call The Fold a not-for-profit social enterprise. "We took advice when we were setting up and that's when we heard about the CIC structure. It seemed so right for us. We wanted to be able to operate from a clear canvas as a community organisation. It's still early days, but I think we have a sustainable vehicle."
With up to 100 visitors a day in peak season and around 600 to its festivals, The Fold provides a lot of people with a glimpse of a sustainable way of life. Visitors can see designer-makers and artists producing beautiful, locally made goods, eat organic food and enjoy a tranquil place to visit that has an additional community benefit.
Part of this extra benefit is providing experiences to local people through volunteering opportunities. "It's uplifting to look into our café, run by fellow director David McCaw, and see five staff working together, three of whom might be volunteers," says Tooby. "It gives it a different kind of quality that you just don't get as a private company. They also help us with out-catering events where we provide locally sourced food to the community."
Currently, a group of designer-makers including a furniture and cabinetmaker, goldsmith, dressmaker, metalworker and jeweller, landscape artist, picture framer, batik artists and glassmaker occupy the studio shops. The Fold also hosts a diverse range of courses, workshops and events that include French lessons, café philosophique, a book group, yoga, tai chi and a folk club.