Mr G and I were invited to look round Stonebridge City Farm, as a project partly funded by Comic Relief. Everyone in the UK is no more than 30 miles from a Comic Relief funded project. There are lots of projects in Nottingham which have received funding, choosing was tough, and in the end I was glad when it came down to project availability on the day we could visit.
We have visited Stonebridge Farm before, but today was very different, we learnt all about what goes on behind the scenes of this incredible community project.
The farm is in the St Anns area of Nottingham, an area which scores highly on government measures of deprivation. St Anns was an area of slum clearance in the 1960s, in fact the farm slowly developed by the community on land that was set aside during this time for a primary school which was never needed.
I was surprised to discover how much happens at Stonebridge and the differences it makes to people’s lives. Stonebridge gives so many people a sense of home, place and community.
Stonebridge helps people who have been excluded, from school, the workplace, from family life. Like the single dad who brings his kids in for somewhere affordable and homely to be when he has them for the weekend. Or George, who has been homeless and has learning difficulties and has travelled from Derby for many years, every day, to volunteer, Stonebridge gives him a sense of purpose and a community.
It was a pleasure to meet Aaron who volunteers at Stonebridge as part of an alternative education plan for students excluded from mainstream education. He didn’t want to talk about school, but he gave us a warm welcome on reception, was really keen to tell us about the farm and was wonderful with Mr G.
Aaron couldn’t wait to show us the one week old guinea pigs in the barn. An amazing sight. He has really flourished working alongside adults and supporting younger visitors. Apparently he also bakes the best chocolate cookies.
The sheep on the farm are expecting, It must be amazing to come and visit as spring comes along and fills the city with new life.
One of the projects goals is to protect the environment, there are workshops in all kinds of gardening and bee keeping. Local residents come to buy plants, swap seeds and pick up growing tips. The plants are a real bargain.
Stonebridge relies on grants, such as the one from Comic Relief, and donations for 60% of it’s income. With the addition of an amazing cafe, events and a shop, 40% of its income is self generated. Feeding animals and managing a farm and education centre doesn’t come cheap. Managing so many individuals requires full time and experienced staff, skilled in planning for the emotional and practical needs of volunteers and visitors. It’s challenging work, yet Stonebridge keeps winning awards.
There’s lots to do for families, when I’ve taken my children it’s always lovely how keen staff and volunteers are to talk to children or take time out to help them pursue an interest, last time it was helping Miss L pond dip and Mr G befriend Billy the pony. This interaction gives volunteers confidence and visitors a chance to interact meaningfully with adults with learning difficulties, and to see their ability to make a really positive contribution to the community.
I couldn’t leave without eating because the food really is something very special. I had a spicy bean burrito and Mr G wolfed veggie sausage, mash and beans. As much food as possible is from the farm or locally sourced. Really impressed by the vegetarian selection and the value for money. Our meals and a drink came to £6.
Stonebridge is a really special place, next time you are thinking about a farm visit I would definitely recommend it over a commercially run farm. You’ll be getting a far richer experience and giving something back to the Nottingham community. And being outdoors as the mental health posters around the farm remind you, makes you feel so much better.