The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP for West Dorset came to visit the Across the Divide headquarters and below is a copy of his impression written up for the Western Gazette.
I have seen the future – right here in West Dorset; and it is with us now.
If you want to see it too, you have to make a pilgrimage to Thorncombe (which happens to be the village in which I live)..
You have to go up the main street and turn off it down a tiny lane. There you will find a barn.
Some time back, this barn was rather the worse for wear – and had clearly ceased to have the original agricultural purpose for which it had been constructed.
Today, it is as smart a building as any in West Dorset, or anywhere else in the country, for that matter. Its stone positively glistens. It has splendidly restored beams, a magnificent set of skylights which are appropriately invisible from outside, cunningly inserted places for birds and owls to eat and roost, and wonderfully polished restored wooden fittings.
But it is not just a West Dorset stone barn brought back to life. It is also packed with high-tech, eco-conscious design features. It has absolutely the latest air heat recovery system, a solar water heating system, and fixed line broadband as well as – for safety’s sake – a line-of-sight wireless broadband system,
Enter the barn, and you find yourself in a brilliantly equipped and ultra-modern office, with ranks of calmly efficient young people working on the latest computers and surrounded by remarkable works of modern art, chic glass and metal tables, and all the other apparatus of the fanciest and grandest of London city firms.
The only thing that differs from a London city office is that this barn, instead of being cramped into some tiny keyhole-space amidst the grime and noise of city life, is surrounded by some of the loveliest of West Dorset’s hills and by the charm of Thorncombe’s little streets.
The business that is going on in this remarkable environment is, in itself, remarkable. Known as “Across the Divide”, it is an organisation devoted to arranging outdoor activities across the world for charities, voluntary bodies and corporations that are raising money for charities. From all over the country, experienced travellers and skillful medics are brought together to lead expeditions that venture not only along the heritage coastline of Britain but also to the North Pole and the Amazon .
The range is vast: an expedition to refurbish a decaying school in South Africa; a tour of a great city by night; the ascent of some dangerous peak; wherever, whatever and whenever – and all quietly and efficiently arranged from this barn in Thorncombe.
Ten years ago, it would have been quite another matter. Twenty years ago, it would have been quite impossible. But today, with broadband communications (mercifully available in Thorncombe, unlike some other parts of West Dorset), it can all be done exactly as efficiently as in a big city office, and with a vastly higher quality of life for those involved.
Those who say that rural areas are inevitably going to be left behind in the fast-moving global economy should pay a visit, and repent !