Fernhurst ‘tele-cottage’ scheme founder dies

Tributes have been paid to Arthur Waitt, a co-founder of the ground-breaking Fernhurst Tele-Cottage which brought computers to the community, at his funeral at the village church.

Mr Waitt died after a long illness. He was 82.

Born in Edinburgh, he gained a BSc degree at Edinburgh University, before going on to Cambridge and to Trinidad and Tobago where he gained diplomas in agricultural sciences and tropical agriculture.

These skills were put to good use working for the Foreigh and Commonwealth Office in Nigeria from 1956. When Nigeria gained its independence, he stayed on until 1964. During his time in Nigeria, he became one of the world’s leading experts on yams, and his key to the yam is at Kew Gardens for use in scientific recognition of the plant.

Returning to England, Mr Waitt lived at Haslemere with his wife, Elsie, and worked for Plant Protection at Fernhurst. The couple moved to the village with their three children, Colin, Keith and Alison, in 1970.

Mr Waitt’s job at the start with Plant Protection was as a roving scout seeking new product possibilities from overseas companies all around the world and keeping good relationships with all the companies with which Plant Protection had dealings.

At his funeral, a tribute from Dr Alan Hayes, read in his absence by Mr Waitt’s colleague and neighbour Roy Woodward, said they often found themselves in the same hotel or office where he much enjoyed the shrewd observations Arthur produced.

Later Mr Waitt’s diplomatic skills and personal charm were put to good use when he was given the demanding job of looking after visitors, be they royalty, politicians, technical people or distributors, many of whom were from behind the Iron Curtain and had a security advisor with them.

His sense of humour, meticulous preparation, calm argument and organisational skills were appreciated not only by his employers but also in Fernhurst where his community spirt was demonstrated.

In 1990 he organised the company’s Fernhurst Open Day which attracted nearly 10,000 visitors. He served on the parish council, was a school governor at Fernhurst Primary School and Midhurst Intermediate School and chairman of the governors of both. On his retirement as a governor in 1996 the director of education wrote: “Your interest in education and the welfare of the youth of this district is outstanding.”

Among his many achievements, in the early 1990s Mr Waitt was one of the leaders in setting up the Fernhurst Tele-Cottage, a unique and, at the time, revolutionary scheme to bring modern computer services to a rural community.

It led to the establishment of the Midhurst Resource Centre, to which he was an advisor and a member of the first management board. The successor to the tele-cottage in Fernhurst is today’s successful Fernhurst Centre.