Dovecote - a Gleam in the Eye

When ARC entered the scene, they had excavated lots of gravel locally and were creating a string of lakes along the northern flank of the City in Linford Valley. They were under pressure, and indeed under some legal obligation, to create amenities in their disused workings and, having just finished excavations at Dovecote Lake, were looking for a use for it. They approached Milton Keynes Sailing Club, who were a little frustrated at the time by the delays in making Willen Lake available, and offered them a tenancy at Dovecote Lake.Now that MKSC had two offers on the table, there was of course disagreement about which was the better of the two. This ultimately caused a split, when a good number of members elected to leave to form Dovecote Sailing Club. This caused a certain bitterness between the two clubs for some years, but there is now an excellent relationship between Haversham SC (which was Dovecote SC) and Milton Keynes SC (who have now moved to Caldecote Lake).
Dovecote Really Starts
Dovecote Sailing Club became active very quickly, initially on the Black Horse Lake, while ARC built a clubhouse at Dovecote and completed the landscaping. The club moved on to Dovecote in around 1975 and discovered all the joys and sorrows of the site. It was a private site, with all the advantages that this offers, but was surrounded by trees, which seriously affected the wind; sometimes surrounded by anglers who did not understand the notions of co-operation; and, most seriously, it had no mains electricity. It was also rendered inaccessible from time to time by floods. These problems did not deter the club and it enjoyed a great deal of success, although finances were sometimes difficult, the generator often did not start and security was a continuing problem.
A Tempting Offer
By the mid 1980s ARC were seeking to plan the whole Linford Valley and water ski-ing played a major part in their thinking. They were sure that the only lake upon which they could get planning permission for a noisy sport was at Dovecote, lying as it does just alongside the M1. They approached Dovecote SC and offered us Haversham Lake, which had many attractions for sailing. The terms of the offer were not too attractive, but seemed worth pursuing, and Dovecote SC approached Milton Keynes SC, who were enduring a number of problems at Willen Lake at the time, to see if there were any mileage in our moving to Haversham together. The clubs worked together long and hard, preparing plans, estimating costs, and so on, but the venture came to nothing when ARC began to seek a completely unrealistic rent.
A More Tempting Offer
So the move to Haversham died, but a new initiative followed in around 1990. ARC had by then engaged a management company to handle the valley, and we immediately re-opened negotiations to move to Haversham. This time we were on our own, as Milton Keynes SC had resolved their immediate difficulties, and this time we were dealing with people who had a wider understanding of the value of water and the prosperity of sailing. It took some time and cost some money, but we were finally offered a 28 year lease at Haversham, with the facilities pretty much as they are now, at the same initial rent as we were paying at Dovecote, to be reviewed after 3 years. This was a very generous offer, as the building work at Haversham was scheduled to cost around £200,000 and may have resulted from ARC's desire to impress the planners in respect of a very large planning application involving the entire Linford Valley; or maybe because, in the flurry of takeovers and changes of personnel, ARC had forgotten that we did not hold a lease at Dovecote and only had an annually renewable licence to sail. Whatever the motivation, we were very well pleased.
The Down Side
Some time around then vandals started a major fire at Dovecote and for one season we operated from a temporary steel container. There was also considerable opposition from some of the Haversham Village residents at the time. Some believed that something like Thorpe Park was being planned and the matter went to planning appeal, but permission was granted and building started.
We Move to Haversham
We jumped at the new opportunity, formed Haversham Sailing Club Limited and signed all the papers, moving to the site in the Spring of 1993. Life was looking good and we really appreciated ARC's generosity. We were financially stable, the sailing was good, we enjoyed a good relationship with our neighbours, the social calendar was packed, and then ARC sold us, along with nearly all the other lakes in the valley, to David Marle, whose primary interest was angling.
Things get Complicated, but result in The Best Offer Yet
We had a good relationship with our new landlord, until the time came for the review of our lease, when there was a great gap between what was being asked and what we were prepared or able to pay. At this time there was considerable concern for the future of the club, but to resolve a situation that had become very prolonged and sometimes bitter, David Marle offered to sell us the site. The first offer was not acceptable, but we quickly agreed a better one, and then approached Barclays Bank and the Sports Council Lottery Award Body, who both moved remarkably quickly, and arranged the finance that enabled us to purchase the site in 1996.
We become Landowners
So here we are. We own the lake, the buildings and around 40 acres of the surrounding land - as long as we continue to repay the bank loan, which is planned to be completely cleared by 2015. (Update: The loan was paid off during 2007)
How do we do it?
This brief history glosses over a good deal, particularly the individual effort of many members. The initial negotiations for Dovecote required skill and endurance; dealing with the Dovecote generator demanded time and effort; negotiating the move to Haversham necessitated a good deal of fortitude and steady nerve; the lease review only succeeded as a result of stubborn determination, as displayed in lots of correspondence; the negotiations with the bank and the Sports Council during the purchase displayed professional attention to detail and persistent badgering of lots of people; the current work developing the site required planning, followed by sweating. We have arrived where we are during over 20 years, when individual members have consistently volunteered their efforts to deal with a crisis, rise to an occasion or simply get on with the dull and boring necessities. Long may this continue, because without it, we should sink.
John Spencer
Originally published in Haverchat - the club newsletter, Oct 2005.


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