Project Londonderry volunteers establish new non-profit organization Members work toward North Village Master Plan, seek community input

Project Londonderry volunteers trim trees at Memorial Park. All photos provided.

From the editor:

To correct the record: Project Londonderry organizers have notified The Chester Telegraph that the 501(c)(3) organization recently established is actually known as The Community Fund for Londonderry, and is separate from the Project Londonderry initiative, which remains a volunteer effort coordinated by the Town Planning Commission.

The Community Fund for Londonderry is intended to raise money for projects or programs for the benefit of the community one organizer said.

This distinction was not articulated during The Telegraph’s approximately 45-minute interview with four organizers on Jan. 12, nor during the last discussion of Project Londonderry at the Londonderry Select Board on Dec. 21. Please see GNAT-TV Londonderry Select Board meeting for Dec. 21 starting at 2:24:22.

According to organizers in a follow-up on Jan. 14, the exact relationship between The Community Fund, Project Londonderry and the town government is still being clarified. The issue will be addressed at the Jan. 18 Select Board meeting.

We are correcting the article to show the misinformation with strikethroughs and the new information in bold.  We will publish the updated version Friday morning.

Sincerely,
Cynthia Prairie


By Cherise Madigan

©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Despite what town officials describe as a generational decline in volunteerism, a community initiative begun by members of Londonderry’s Planning Commission, known as Project Londonderry, has started to gain traction with businesses and residents alike.

Its goal? To unify town citizens in an effort to boost economic vitality for businesses, residents and the community as a whole.

Recently, Project Londonderry established itself as Project Londonderry organizers established The Community Fund for Londonderry, a non-profit separate from town government. It  Through the town Planning Commission, the group is now working toward a Master Plan for the town’s North Village and is seeking widespread community input to define the future that Londonderry residents want to see.

“This is about quality of life for everyone,” said Planning Commission chair Sharon Crossman. “It’s supposed to be a comprehensive effort to be the best we can be, and to make sure we involve the community at-large.”

“The goal is to bring Londonderry’s unique character to life through projects that enhance (it) for residents, second homeowners and visitors,” said Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway, a local business leader who is volunteering with Project Londonderry. “Through Project Londonderry, we hope to make our hometown an even better place to live, work, recreate and raise families.”

Organizers say community involvement has already surpassed expectations. The group’s mailing list boasts about 50 members, says Planning Commission member Elsie Smith, who chairs one of Project Londonderry’s four working groups (Economic Vitality, Main Street, Recreation & Outdoor Resources, and Community Connections & Communication. Learn more about each group here.)

‘There are people coming to us with really
valuable experiences from other communities
and wanting to engage right away.’

Susan Collins
Project Londonderry volunteer

The largest working group, Smith’s Recreation & Outdoor Resources committee, has 15 volunteers while the others have six to 10, with some overlap. Volunteers span town demographics, Smith says, and business owners, longtime residents, other community organizations, and even new residents are actively involved.

“There are people coming to us with really valuable experiences from other communities and wanting to engage right away,” said organizer Susan Collins, a new full-time resident.

“We all really care about this town and we’re trying to craft a common vision,” said Smith.

With a seemingly growing community since the pandemic began last March, and many residents working from home as well as spending more time online, organizers say they have been innovative in their online organizing to bolster participation and have remained flexible, despite challenges posed by Covid-19.

Project Londonderry volunteers decorate the town ahead of the 2020 holidays.

“Our very first planning meeting with the community ended up being about Covid,” says Smith, explaining that organizers — especially those on the Economic Vitality Working Group — utilized the opportunity to connect community members with resources like grants, stimulus funds, and more. “We used it as a mechanism to get a pulse on what was happening in our town with respect to businesses and what we can do to address their needs.”

Project Londonderry organizers say that the need for community action long preceded the pandemic. After Tropical Storm Irene swept through the region nearly a decade ago, Londonderry’s Main Street was “terribly damaged,” Crossman recalls, with a number of buildings in the North Village flooding and becoming vacant lots.  “Many of the property owners and businesses also had a hard time recovering because of small, repeat flooding and flood damage.”

Progress at the town level can be slow, Crossman says, because boards have a number of bureaucratic responsibilities and limits on fundraising. And, she adds, the town is relatively small, with about 1,700 residents, and lacks a Town Planning or Development Office to help address such issues.

‘We need to be able to compete with other towns.
… We need to make our town more attractive
to visitors when we can welcome them back.’

Tad Kinsley
Business owner
Project Londonderry volunteer

Londonderry’s location at the edges of Windham and Bennington counties can also result in the town sometimes being “a little forgotten” Smith says, though state Routes 11 and 100 bring a number of in- and out-of-state visitors to town in an average year.

“We need to be able to compete with other towns,” said Tad Kinsley, owner of Jake’s Restaurant who also volunteers with Project Londonderry. “Londonderry has aged and there are some properties that need to be addressed. We need to make our town more attractive to visitors when we can welcome them back.”

With its new non-profit structure, Project Londonderry is officially separate from its municipal origins under the Londonderry Planning Commission. The Community Fund for Londonderry, and is separate from the Project Londonderry initiative, which remains a volunteer effort coordinated by the Town Planning Commission. While the group still hopes to work closely with town government — and many of its leaders still serve on the Planning Commission  — the separation allows Project Londonderry  the new organization will be able to independently fundraise, apply for grants and organize.

Larry Gubb, a Planning Commission member and leader of Project Londonderry said another benefit from being forming a non-profit is the ability to “move some of our projects forward without having to raise taxes. I think that will help some of our projects move forward more quickly.”

Welcome holiday decorations thanks to Project Londonderry.

Larry Gubb, a Planning Commission member and leader of Project Londonderry said another benefit from being a non-
profit is the ability to “move some of our projects forward without having to raise taxes. I think that will help some of our projects move forward more quickly.”

The largest project in progress is a new Main Street Master Plan for the North Village, which would outline a blueprint for revitalizing the commercial center.

“The Master Plan will help us with many of the other priorities we have on our list,” Gubb said. “It will help us clarify and organize before fundraising, and identify things that can be done more immediately vs. things that might be further down the road.”

This past fall, organizers applied for a municipal planning grant from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to fund an initial Master Plan study. Project Londonderry has also partnered with the Vermont Council on Rural Development to engage town residents in the planning process, and will be holding a virtual Community Engagement Session with the Vermont Council on Rural Development in a month or so.

“The Community Engagement Session is the next most important step for us,” said Smith. “We hope that’s going to ratify some of the plans we’ve been working on so we can move them forward in a more assertive way.”

Even outside of the engagement session, organizers say that they want to hear from all Londonderry residents.

“We want to hear people’s thoughts about life in Londonderry, what would benefit their families and their employment, what are their dreams,” Crossman said. “That feedback will help make this a more well-rounded effort.”

Smith added, “We’re here to make stuff happen.”

To contact Project Londonderry, email: projectlondonderry@gmail.com

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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  1. Bob Wells says:

    It’s really heartening to see so many people in Londonderry commit their time and energies into making Londonderry a nicer place to live, work and play.

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