By Nick Kilby
Year after year, families like mine eagerly await the opening of bookings for the Eweleaze Campsite. To call it a campsite is technically correct but those who have visited know it has breathtaking views over Weymouth Bay, with Portland Harbour and the Isle of Wight to the left and right. The farm transforms into a community of 6500 visitors a week, with buildings at the beating heart of this temporary community that accommodates a bakery, restaurant, coffee shop, a farm shop with local organic products, and food outlets supplying crepes, burgers, pizzas, seafood, veggie dishes and wonderful Dorset ice cream. Campers come in their droves with families, couples, and neighbourhood groups, forming their communities in the field while using the solar showers and compost loos. And for those with a need for something more, there are fully furnished Bell Tents.
We have been visiting every August since 2012. It remains as exciting now as our first drive over the crest of the hill, looking down on the Eweleaze and seeing the view that will be ours for the annual weekend under canvas. Every year the son and heir meet new friends and soon start playing football, often just as he’s needed to help put the tent up.
I love getting up early, using the glorious showers and solar heating built on site, before walking into the centre to queue up for the fresh rolls and croissants and then making breakfast to eat as we look out over the bay and plan our day.
This year, in the lead-up to the summer, Peter the owner, appealed by email for support for his planning application to extend the opening period from August to include the last two weeks of July. The approach Peter adopted was clearly based on some frustration with the planning system, but it wasn’t going to win the support he hoped. I dropped him an email and offered to help. When we got to talk on the phone, the news was depressing, Peter had been told that the case officer was going to refuse this application under delegated powers on landscape grounds. The camp has been successfully opened for over a decade, and so we questioned how Landscape could be a reason for not extending the opening period by two weeks.
I said we would see if we could have the local councillors consider the application at the committee, Peter accepted the offer. Team Cratus started its work, Vikki Slade took the lead, with support from Dan Humphreys and we soon had some startling feedback; the new councillor from Dorset Council had not made clear provision for Councillor Call in the Planning Committee and our request was not as clear or easy as in most local authority governance. After some days of telephone calls and discussions on the case for supporting Eweleaze, we were told that the application would now be considered by the Planning Committee, sadly not in June, but in July, so the opening would not be extended in 2022 but at least we had an opportunity to avoid a rather weak case for an appeal.
The team expressed the owner’s story, and highlighted the economic benefit to Weymouth and the surrounding visitor attractions, bringing in an additional 13,000 visitors. Also, since the site opened in August, there has never been any onsite management issue nor has the village suffered from traffic-related issues thanks to the superb management. The application was debated by councillors and was approved by 7 to 3.
Why the case officer was against the application, well we won’t ask for now, but as with all sites, where there is ongoing planning history as businesses evolve, tension and frustrations on both sides can become an issue in the best of circumstances. An appeal would have been a dreadful waste of time and money for all sides and this was right for Members to decide. As the results of the votes reflected, members were not all convinced. But in 2023, another 13,000 can visit Eweleaze, enjoy the hospitality on site and as importantly, do as we do- go into Weymouth, or drive to Dorchester and even find our way to Portland Bill and spend money in communities that need to make the most of the annual summer season of tourism.
This year, Kim, our Financial Controller, spent a weekend at Eweleaze with her family and the following Sunday, Vikki and her family came over from Poole and joined us for pizza and Ice cream as we all enjoyed the views. Other members of the team have plans to visit in 2023.
Not all our work gives back in such a special way for our efforts but if you are looking for something to do with your family and friends next summer, we may see you at Eweleaze.
The Glastonbury Festival of UK campsites.