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People power saves Lincolnshire town’s heritage and puts it on the tourist map

28 Plough Hill social enterpise café

Volunteers have brought new life to a historic Lincolnshire town by creating and staffing a new heritage centre, library and café.

Until recently, the picturesque Roman town of Caistor, on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, was falling into decline. The local library was threatened with closure, buildings were falling derelict and the town’s history was being forgotten.

Now, residents have come together to open an arts and heritage centre that has helped turn the town’s fortunes around – saving the library, rescuing a derelict chapel and preserving the town’s historic artefacts in the process.

The development of 28 Plough Hill, now being documented as part of a major BBC TV series presented by Sarah Beeney, (airing BBC 1 24/8/11 at 8.00pm) was one of only six projects in the UK to win a £433,840 grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS fund.

The money enabled the centre to bring in architect Jonathan Hendry to create a stunning design for the interior of the chapel, making spectacular use of the 19th century gothic windows and wooden beamed roof.

Lincolnshire County Council was persuaded to move Caistor’s library into the centre, providing valuable rental income. Local artefacts – dating from Roman times onwards – have been gathered together and put on display, together with a timeline of Caistor’s history from 8000 BC.

A café serving home-made cakes and pastries has been set up in the centre, providing crucial income, as well as providing a pleasant place for locals and visitors to meet up. There is also exhibition space, allowing displays of local and visiting artists’ work.

The entire centre is a community effort, with volunteers doing much of the day-to-day work. Apart from two paid full-time café staff and two part-time cleaners, plus library staff 16 hours a week, the centre is run by the efforts of local people who give their time for free. This enables the library to be open for business seven days a week.

At the helm of the project is Roy Schofield, who, together with his wife Carol, is running the centre.

“Caistor was losing its heritage, but now thanks to this centre we’ve got somewhere to show people what Caistor used to be like. We’ve also provided a place where local people and visitors can meet and find out about this historic place,” he says.

“In the process we’ve saved a fabulous building and galvanised local people into doing something positive for the community.”