Help save Kentish Town City Farm, plead workers and volunteers
All staff at risk of redundancy and some animals may leave, including horses and Shirley the cow
29 April, 2019 — By Tom Foot
A CAMPAIGN is under way to Save Kentish Town City Farm, with staff who are facing redundancy defiantly warning: “We will not be silenced!”
Farm workers stood shoulder to shoulder for a photo yesterday (Wednesday) after they were all put “at risk” of losing their jobs and barred from social media accounts. They warn projects for inner-city children and disabled people are under threat, with a risk that all of the horses and donkeys at the farm in Cressfield Close will be put out to pasture.
Farm workers have set up a “Hands Off Our Farm!” billboard in the heart of the grounds and are calling on the community to join them at a child-friendly festival of resistance at the farm over the May bank holiday weekend.
Young people, who used the farm growing up and are now volunteering there, have given testimonies in films – some in tears as they did – about the importance of the farm. The campaign is aimed at persuading the farm’s board to change direction over redundancy warnings, and examine why it has failed to secure significant grants in recent years.
Jade Burke, a psychology expert and teacher who has used the farm for 25 years, said: “With all the recent issues with knife crime and youth centres closing, it is essential the farm remains open. Children need a reason to get up, whether that is because they want to groom a goat, muck out the pigs, ride a horse or collect eggs – the farm is able to be that reason, providing them with the responsibility some children are so desperate to receive.”
The farm’s board of trustees say they cannot go on posting a deficit after three successive years in the red. They have come up with a plan to slash the wage bill by axing full-time posts. There are 10 salaried positions backed up by several volunteers who work long hours to keep the project running.
The board’s cuts plan – seen by the New Journal – would lead to the coveted horse programme being disbanded. Staff say this would mean an end to a popular therapy service for people with disabilities, and the pony club.
The farm’s three horses would move on and the donkeys returned to a sanctuary.
Staff say the big cow, Shirley, is also under threat and the changes will “cage all of our free-range poultry who are first to greet visitors day in, day out”. Several other schemes and activities for physical and learning disabilities would be cut back or curtailed.
One parent, Margaret Houston, who has a disabled child, Louis, said: “We love all the animals, and Louis loves riding on his favourite pony, Murphy. Riding is really, really important for Louis because it maintains his core strength and gives him a sense of achievement and it’s really good fun. The staff are all really expert, really devoted to the animals – and we wouldn’t be able to access this sort of riding for the disabled anywhere else. So, please, save Kentish Town City Farm.”
The farm’s activities co-ordinator, Simone Uncle, said: “Horse-riding is still something that is for richer children with wealthy parents. It is expensive. But here anyone can come and ride a horse for half an hour and have a lesson for half an hour for £5. There are a lot of children in Gospel Oak who will never have that chance again.”
A petition, signed after a couple of days by more than 2,300 people, says: “The board of trustees claim that the reason for this redundancy process is purely financial. The staff team and other farm supporters believe this is not the case.”
The farm’s accounts reveal an unstable period since 2015. The board accepts that no grants of more than £10,000 have been secured in two years. Staff, backed by a former member of the board, have come up with an alternative proposal, which includes a pay cut, which they say can guarantee the future of the farm.
The eviction of long-serving night watchman Terry Child from a house on the farm land is also still on the cards. Mr Child, who is looking after his 97-year-old mother who lives nearby, is faced with being made homeless.
The Farm, which is on land joint-owned by Network Rail and Camden Council, receives core funding from Camden and City of London councils, with additional support coming from a range of sponsors and donations.
This week, farm workers say they were locked out of Twitter and Facebook after promoting a petition to save their jobs online.
Staff have responded by setting up their own “HOOF” social media account that is calling on supporters to sign the petition, donate and attend the May festival. Farm co-ordinator Melanie Roberts, who is threatened with redundancy, said: “The board is not communicating with us and the community. When are they going to? We want as many people as possible to come along to the festival, and show your support.”
In a statement, Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer said: “Kentish Town City Farm is a vital asset to our community and deserves our full support. It brings refuge from city life to the heart of Kentish Town and adds real value to the lives of so many residents. A lot of work is being done to build a sustainable future for the farm and I will do all I can to support a positive outcome.”
Town Hall leisure chief, Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson, said: “The farm is an independent organisation that has the autonomy to take the necessary steps to ensure its long-term financial viability. “In the last six years, we have granted the farm over £800,000 in funding, and will continue to fund £75,000 a year of Strategic Partnership core funding until January 2021, when we will consider the level of funding for the following three years until 2024. We are also prepared to assist the farm at this difficult time by offering in-kind support to staff, management and the board of trustees that they consider beneficial and necessary to ensure their long-term financial viability.”
The board reiterated its previous statement, as the campaign against its budget of cuts gathered. It said: “It is with considerable regret that staff at Kentish Town City have been placed at risk of redundancy.
The Farm’s finances mean that significant savings must be found to ensure its future sustainability.”
It added: “In the year to March 2017 expenditure exceeded income by £24,703 and in the year to March 2018 expenditure exceeded income by £46,503. Whilst accounts to 31 March 2019 are being finalised it is likely that expenditure will exceed income by approximately £40,000. Projected income for the current financial year indicates that without significant reduction in expenditure there will be a fourth year when the Farm will operate a deficit. Considerable effort is being committed to fundraising but there remains a risk of redundancies in order to reduce the Farm’s financial exposure.”
The statement concluded: “Whilst consultation with staff continues it is not appropriate to comment further. We are working to keep the farm open to serve the needs of its local community.” – See Gulliver, page 12