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VICTORY! Celebrations as campaign to save Kentish Town City Farm ends in success

£100k donor read about farm crisis in the Camden New Journal

04 July, 2019 — By Tom Foot

The board at Kentish Town City Farm has stepped down and a cuts package cancelled

VICTORY has been celebrated at Kentish Town City Farm after the board who came up with a brutal package of redundancies sensation­ally quit and handed control to staff and supporters.

There were joyful scenes at the farm in Cressfield Close as it was confirmed that nobody will now lose their job and that community services which had been threatened with the axe will be saved.

Some of the farm’s favourite animals will not be relocated, while the eviction of night­watchman Terry Child from a house on the site has been called off.

Farm worker Mel Chamberlain, one of the campaign organisers, said: “Instantly, the positivity has come back. We are all feeling great. We have got ideas of how to build on what we have already got. It’s just a completely new kettle of fish.”

She added: “We have been angry because the whole thing just didn’t make sense. It felt like we were being ridden roughshod over – that’s why tempers flared. We felt completely disrespected. All this time we were going about our daily jobs, but it was hard even though we love it.”

An anonymous donor, who had offered £100,000 to save the farm on condition that the board quit, has confirmed he will now honour his commitment.

The businessman, whose children had visited the farm, made the extraordinary offer after reading about the jobs threat in the New Journal last month.

This week, he said: “I don’t feel the need for a victory lap. The farm gets a clean start, which is all I wanted. It still has a long recovery road ahead, obviously.”

Oscar-nominated actress Rosamund Pike – who had called for the “magical farm” to be saved – was “thrilled” at the good news, her agent said this week.

All 11 members of staff were put at risk of redundancy in March as part of a drastic cuts package aimed at halving the wage bill.

It would have left one adult member of staff at the farm and led to its three horses being removed while geese and ducks would have been caged. Horse-riding classes and therapy for disabled people and those with learning difficulties would have been stopped.

The farm’s chief executive, Gus Alston, quit earlier in the year, shortly before farm staff were put “at risk” of redundancy.

The board had said that fundraising losses over two years had created a financial black hole of more than £100,000.

But staff, helped by a former director of the farm, Rachel Schwartz, put forward an alternative plan that would have seen staff take a pay cut to save their jobs. Last week the board, under pressure after rejecting the businessman’s £100,000 offer, conceded and agreed to accept staff’s alternative plan.

A week later the board members walked out, leaving the office empty and the keys back under staff control.

The “deficit” will be cleared by the anonymous donation. The farm’s new trustees believe they now have the team in place to get the project back in “rude health” in time for the farm’s 50th anniversary in 2022.

Angela Woods, a beekeeping expert who lives in Grafton Road has been installed as a new board member.

“I am a local through and through and have lived here for 20 years,” she said. “One of my big things is kids having a connection with nature, particularly in this area of London. The farm is a real gem and a haven, and there is no option but to stick up for it and make sure it carries on.”

She added: “This is not just a business, to be run with graphs and cash flows. Being a local is the only way to appreciate that.”

Simone Uncle is the new interim director at the farm, replacing Mick Denton, who quit on Thursday along with remaining board members Richard Waller, William Partridge and Christine Harris. The fourth board member, Oliver Peachey, departed last month.

The resignations on Thursday came after members of the farm wrote to trustees demanding an emergency meeting to call for the board to resign. Camden Council, which is due to review its funding for the farm, has been working with the board on the cuts plan.

Culture chief Councillor Jonathan Simpson said: “We have granted the farm over £800,000 in funding in the last six years, and ­will continue to fund £75,000 a year until January 2021, when appropriate funding for the following three years will be reviewed.”

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