Free to save a traditional Cornish craft: 30,000 pounds award will enable 300-year-old family tannery to survive after thousands of readers reveal dreams of a new life

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The Independent Culture
A plan to preserve a rare and ancient family tannery in Cornwall has been awarded the pounds 30,000 award in the 'Free With The Independent. You' competition.

Readers were invited to submit a 150-word statement on how they would use a cash award to change their lives - by fulfilling a dream, perhaps, or liberating themselves to take on a new job, or complete a long-nurtured project.

The award was closely contested. From nearly 5,000 entries, a shortlist of 50 was sifted, from which the five judges had to select 21 winners - one for the top pounds 30,000 award, 10 awards of pounds 1,000, and a further 10 of pounds 500.

The range of ideas and ambitions was huge; reading them proved to be not only entertaining, but often touching. Many people simply wanted a small sum to indulge a wild and brief excitement - parachuting, flying, and racing motor cars were popular projects.

Many others produced proposals for supporting people in need, in the Third World, and here in Britain. Perhaps the most illuminating and largest set of entries came from women, often recently divorced or separated, who simply wanted the money to free themselves from the pressures of running a home.

The judges were themselves all experienced in changing lives: Bob Geldof, the rock musician who turned into a global fund-raiser for aid charities; Katharine Hamnett, the fashion designer; Baroness Pauline Perry, former vice-chancellor of South Bank University, and education adviser to the Department of Trade and Industry; Tom Shebbeare, who, as head of the Prince's Trust, spends much of his life helping less advantaged people develop their own opportunities and enterprises; and Andreas Whittam Smith, the editor of the Independent.

It was perhaps not surprising, therefore, that they found it very hard to agree on the final winner.

By the final stages of a hotly disputatious session, it was clear that three candidates stood out. One came from David Powell, of Sawston, near Cambridge, who aims to complete documenting the flora of the islands of the mid-Atlantic ridge by making watercolours of all the plants he can find, and then publishing the results.

All five judges were impressed particularly by Mr Powell's clear ability to complete the project (he has already visited the Azores and Ascension Island to paint plants there).

Another equally convincing proposal came from Christopher Dawson, a boatbuilder from Wester Ross, Scotland, who wants to build a radical new design for the single- handed transatlantic boat race.

In the end, however, the judges supported Jonathon Croggon for the award, a 28-year-old marketing manager who wants to return with his brother to the small village of Grampound, in Cornwall, to run the business that has been in his family for 300 years - one of only two in Britain still using natural oak bark tanning methods, selling high quality leather to top-of-the-range shoemakers.

THE WINNING ENTRY

THE TANNING industry in Grampound dates back to the earliest records of Cornish industrial history, using as materials the abundant supplies of oak coppice along the river banks and raw hides produced locally. The tanning process involved 'liming' the hides to loosen the fur, before 'tanning' the leather in a solution of oak bark, a process that takes more than a year.

J Croggon and Son is the only remaining tanner in Grampound. Margins are tight, and the recession has had a devastating effect on the leather markets. If this company fails another of Britain's oldest crafts would take a step into history.

Bankers are reluctant to extend loans to such a company. I would spend your prize money refurbishing and improving the capital stock, and relocating my brother and me so we can continue to manage the tannery into the next century. This would be a dream come true]

THE RUNNERS-UP

1,000 pounds winners

Christopher Dawson, Wester Ross: to build a radical new boat for the single-handed transatlantic boat race.

David Powell, Cambridge: to complete watercolour drawings of plants on the islands of the mid-Atlantic ridge.

A C Ingall, Dover: for desk-top publishing equipment to produce a parish newsletter.

Tristan Viney, Cirencester: for a 17-year- old with learning difficulties who needs to complete his training to become independently skilled.

Catherine Baines, Market Harborough: to buy a battery-driven all-terrain buggy, enabling her to get out and about.

Keith Anderson, Matlock: to buy maple wood to make violins.

Vanessa Phillips, London: to obtain in-vitro fertilisation.

Irene Hepworth, East Sheen: to 'regain control' in a home with small children.

John Goss, Birmingham: to make 'immortal' paper.

Gerald Harrison, Fordingbridge: to build a maze.

500 pounds winners

Kit Sampson, Southwold: to research gypsy baby death rates.

Bill Merton, Skegness: to create a deciduous coppice.

Richard Rosling, London: to learn Bengali, so that he can read Rabindranath Tagore's poems in the original.

John Greenfield, Lewes: to start breeding ornamental ducks.

Paul Samuels, Birmingham: to start training as a tree surgeon.

Susan Flood, Deeside: to join a team filming the Great White Shark.

Doreen Neal, London: to learn, at 60, how to drive.

Ernest Nelson, Tavistock: to rebuild the tandem his wife and he used to ride together before they married.

Richard Fryer, Hastings: to start building a wooden sailing boat.

Philip Lee, Harrow: to travel to Brazil to conduct the Riberao Preto Symphony Orchestra.

(Photographs omitted)

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