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City Farm deserves Town Hall support

09 May, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Chris Heath with some of the young visitors to Kentish Town City Farm

I FOUND another England in Kentish Town on Sunday, away from all the raucous chatter over Brexit and what is going wrong in the country today, a place full of high human endeavour and warm companionship. How far the other England seemed!

I arrived at the end of a day I had noted as a festival at the City Farm in Grafton Road, basically a siding off the main road where once ponies were kept for the railway turntable at the nearby Roundhouse.

It was the first city farm in London, founded by an American, Ed Berman, who had also set up the Talacre sports centre, all in the 1970s.

It’s now in trouble financially. So, local people, the real people of this land of ours, have got together to save it, raising a miraculous sum of £5,000 on Sunday for an enterprise facing an annual loss of £40,000.

People were helping to pack up as I arrived, trestles were being put away, children were running around, the band was putting away their instruments – an atmosphere of high hopes hung in the air.

If we are to create a new world it will be with people like this, I thought.

Robbie McGregor, a rubbery, bearded man, had made a good few pounds dashing off convincing portraits of passers-by – a man who had qualified as an architect in his youth but put such ambitions aside and took up art instead.

Or a middle-aged man behind the counter in the kitchen where he had been dispensing tea all day, who spoke slowly, sometimes with a little difficulty, with a face that lit up when he told me he was now sending emails. Then there was Melanie Roberts, who manages things. Once a “backing singer”, she told me, a little shyly, she’s now a saviour for a gem of an amenity that should be treasured by the local council but whose performances are far too often measured in pounds, shillings and pence, the human quality invisible to the eyes of those at the Town Hall.]

One of the rich charac­ters of the farm is Chris Heath, a born teacher, who grew up in Yorkshire, with grey hair, and a ruddy farmer’s face, and who clearly loves teach­ing young children from the local primary schools all about the animals that abound on the farm.

He asks me questions about how animals behave, and his eyes light up as he talks, and I mumble and stumble through sentences, but he takes it all in good humour, and then suddenly asks me about the defecating habits of birds that, I admit, I had never thought of.

It riles me when he tells me lots of little children come to the farm but not the older ones from the senior schools because, it seems, they cannot fit in visits that, admittedly, would take two or three hours. And now that secondary schools have such tight schedules where exams and league tables dominate timetables, it means the young teenagers that need people like Chris to help them are not able to draw in such inspiring tales as I heard from him.

If the people I met on Sunday, especially the middle-aged women, washing up, clearing away tables and chairs, and joking and laughing as they moved around the room, ran this world how much better managed it would be.

I have met the new chief executive, Tim Robertson, who is, hopefully, of a new breed of Town Hall chiefs. He’s a man who has been part of the real world, and note spent all of his time behind desks and on balance sheets. If he could go down to the farm perhaps he would he see it as I did – a people’s enterprise, far, faraway from the soul-less corporate world, one that the council should be proud of – and support.

How far is the council keeping up with world changes? In this perilous age of climate change cities need to be turned inside out, become more green and bucolic. City Farm is a peep into the future – the council should not let it slip away.


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