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Mystery of city farm’s 20 new recruits

New faces join just before under-fire board closes applications for positions with voting rights

17 May, 2019 — By Tom Foot

A MYSTERY bloc of members has been installed at Kentish Town City Farm to prevent a coup against under-fire board chiefs, staff claim.

The New Journal has obtained a list of new members accepted shortly before all staff were put “at risk” of redundancy in April, when new applications to the charitable trust were closed.

A majority of the 20 new members – who have voting rights at meetings – are not known to farm staff.

Staff say the new membership – who live outside Camden and appear to have links to the current board of trustees – now outnumber the “genuine farm patrons” from Camden.

They believe the new faces have joined the farm in a bid to prevent a voting threshold being reached that could trigger a vote of no confidence in the current board over the redundancy proposals.

A farm source said: “We believe this was a deliberate attempt to close down the community voice with new members that have no relationship with the farm and do not live in Camden. The trustees are supposed to be accountable to the membership, who have voting rights.”

The membership list has been closed since April when the redundancies consultation was announced.

A charitable trust member undertakes an unpaid role that requires commitment and an understanding of community needs. The New Journal has asked the board, and its new interim director, about the make-up of the new membership, but it has declined to comment.

The board has been under intense scrutiny since it put all staff “at risk” of redundancy in response to two consecutive years of financial losses.

The projected deficit for 2018-19 is around £40,000, a figure the trustees say makes the farm unsustainable. There are also questions about future funding commitments from Camden Council, which is to review how much it gives the farm from 2021.

The farm’s former director, Rachel Schwartz, who ran it for two years until 2016, believes it can continue without the need for drastic staff cuts. There have been calls for an independent body to review financial decisions at the farm after talks between staff, management and the council broke down.

A statement from the trustees said: “The board of trustees and interim director are committed to ensuring the farm has a long-term future. During this difficult time for staff and for all of those interested in the farm’s future the board and key stakeholders do not feel it is appropriate to comment on any issue relating to the farm.”

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