Farm shop’s plan for new community hub to tackle social isolation

Martin Westhorpe, owner of the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Martin Westhorpe, owner of the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A family-run farm shop near Saxmundham is fundraising for a new community hub that the owners hope will help tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Martin and Kerry Westhorpe , owners of The Railway Farm Shop in Benhall, are setting up a crowdfunder to funds for a new...

Martin and Kerry Westhorpe , owners of The Railway Farm Shop in Benhall, are setting up a crowdfunder to funds for a new social space. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Martin Westhorp and his partner Kerry Kirkham took over the timber-built Railway Farm Shop and Market Garden in Benhall, just off the A12, in spring last year.

However, they soon noticed how many of their customers were visiting the store and only buying a few items - partially because they wanted to speak to other people.

In response, the couple decided they would put together a plan to convert one of their polytunnels, which are normally used for growing vegetables, and the surrounding space into an eco-friendly community hub.

The owners hope the proposed new hub will give customers at the store the opportunity to socialise and relax, after the second lockdown.

Sprouts at the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sprouts at the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A toilet and community garden are also planned for the scheme, which Mr Westhorp and Ms Kirkham originally planned to launch in March but delayed the project due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The produce grown within the community garden would be shared with those involved in the scheme.

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The farm shop owners have said the new hub, if it is constructed, will be available for use by Suffolk residents of all ages and not just the elderly.

A campaign on Crowdfunder was launched on Thursday evening and has a fundraising goal of £8,000, which could be stretched to £11,000 if the initial target is met.

Produce at the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Produce at the Railway Farm Shop in Benhall. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

On the Crowdfunder page, the project’s aim is to “bring the community closer together whilst educating, enhancing and improving visitor experience”.

If the fundraising goal is met, it is hoped the work could be carried out over the winter and the new hub could be ready at the start of next year. Mr Westhorp said: “Really early on, we realised a lot of the ageing community would be here at the shop because they wanted a chat. Benhall does have quite an ageing population.

“The plan is we will convert one of our own smaller tunnels into a community hub.

“It’s all about mental wellbeing. Isolation is probably the biggest thing, as it gives people a purpose.

“It will be a really nice space where people can come. We just want people out and about. We’re really excited about it.”

MORE: WATCH: Video shows Suffolk town centres deserted after lockdown

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