Torbay Council, the local authority representing the areas of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham on the South Devon coastline, are supporting their residents with a ‘Crowdfund Torbay’ initiative.
Up to £5,000 in match funding is available through Crowdfunder, to support those who are finding ways to ‘enrich the lives of the residents and communities in the area’.
One such group are the ‘Friends of Oldway’, volunteers in Paignton who are dedicated to ‘the renovation and reopening of Oldway Mansion’. The splendor of this local jewel is thanks to Isaac Merritt Singer, the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, who had decided to make his home here and started to build the mansion in 1871. Outlived by its lengthy construction, the mansion has since had a multitude of residents including Isaac’s son Paris, an American Women’s War Relief Hospital in WW1, a country club, RAF cadets in WW2 and more recently council offices.
The size and required upkeep of this historic building has proved too costly over the years to be tenable for any local authority use. Since a failed attempt in 2013 to turn Oldway Mansion into a hotel, Torbay Council has set up a charitable trust to allow for community management of the building, with the aim of re-opening it.
The Oldway Trust was established to pursue its restoration;
‘for the public benefit, to advance the heritage of Torbay and its surroundings, through the preservation, restoration, development, operation and maintenance of Oldway Mansion, its associated buildings, site and landscape, to advance the education of the public by providing public access to these buildings and engaging the public in their heritage’.
Since a failed bid for Horizon Heritage Funding, the Trust are exploring new revenue streams. The stream that proved successful was crowdfunding, The Friends of Oldway have successfully crowdfunded £12,806 from 387 supporters to reopen Oldway’s Tea Rooms. Their efforts included a pledge of £3,750 from Torbay Council’s ‘Crowdfund Torbay’ fund.
This pledge reflected the council’s aims of ‘enriching the lives of the residents and communities in the area, reducing inequalities and social isolation and supporting our community’s economy and culture’.
The Chair of Oldway Friends Group and crowdfunding campaign manager Kathy Hughs explained,
“we were hoping to access Heritage Lottery Funding but because of Covid, the opportunities to bid have closed. I went back to the committee suggesting that the Friends part of the Trust could raise the money for the tea rooms through crowdfunding”.
In the Torbay Council action plan pieced together with the Oldway Trust, it was decided that immediate action could be taken to begin work on the tea rooms. These would form part of a new and diverse revenue structure that will define the future of the building.
According to Kathy, “the crowdfunding was an incredible experience which nearly brought me to tears on many occasions. When I saw just how many people had donated, how much they had given. People are so kind, the sheer number of those who shared or contacted us to offer their support was very uplifting”.
The mansion has proved to be a well loved local landmark and it has been integral in many people’s lives. Kathy says, “at one stage, it was the second most popular registry office for weddings in the country and everyone who grew up in the area has fond memories of the gardens which have always been open to the public”.
This building has a great history in the community and the Oldway Trust believes that it has a bright future ahead of it. With 110 rooms, the possibilities are endless and there are plans to host weddings, school proms, private functions and much more, all of which will ensure its connection to people’s lives for generations to come. With plans for a restaurant, tea rooms and possibly a bar, the mansion has the opportunity to be used a great deal.
Since the tea rooms have been renovated, the Friends of Oldway plan to open seven days a week, instead of just the weekends as originally intended. The crowdfunding process also enabled them to offer membership and the number of members, in an effort to enhance future financial applications. Friends of Oldway now boasts 500 members, and counting!