|Stonebridge's Shetland pony - all set to race at Epsom|
One wet, windy winter afternoon I was by chance visiting Stonebridge Farm on the edge of the city, in the hubbub of St. Ann’s. Although the weather was terrible, the atmosphere at this visitor’s centre was most definitely not.
You may think it unbelievable for there to exist a farm on the outskirts of the city, but I kid you not. Stonebridge Farm, opened in November 1979, is a civic farm with a difference. Run by a small staff of nine, their aim is to train local people with learning disabilities, and young people struggling at school, to develop their skills and potential. Around 100 volunteers and 150 visitors per week make this centre into the bustling, playful and undoubtedly invaluable space that I was invited into last week.
Many of Nottingham’s residents are unaware of Stonebridge and the massive effort that goes into making it what it is today. As a student, I was particularly oblivious to the good work that goes on within the 4 acres of the farm.
It markets itself to the wider community as, by and large, a visitor’s centre; there are all farm animals of all shapes and sizes to look at, and most importantly, interact with. In total there are 16 species of animals here, ranging from ducks to the more exotic Kune Kune pigs from New Zealand.
The farm has many a tale to tell about its animals: they really are part of the Stonebridge family. From the wormery to the cows, every animal has a story. I heard that the Shetland pony, for example, is currently being trained for the Shetland Derby at Epsom as a fundraising exercise! I was sceptical about this at first, but I was assured it was in with a good chance…
The goats and sheep are untypically fearless of humans and incredibly tame. I gingerly held my hand through the wire and at least two goats came over and licking licked my gloved hand; this was another story for several young children that were also visiting on the same afternoon. They were happily feeding the animals, totally unafraid of them. It was refreshing to see such a rapport with these creatures that normally wouldn’t be seen in the inner life of a city such as Nottingham.
Yet Stonebridge goes beyond just existing as a city farm with amusing anecdotes of its Shetland pony and … er, the waste disposal efficiency of the Kune Kunes! It provides a space for the development of skills and training people with learning difficulties as well as school refusers. It is a community where these people can work, and have a reason for doing so.
|Feeding the lambs
- part of Stonebridge farm's education programme
The centre has big plans for development. At present, the farm aims to produce naturally, harking back to the older generations. No chemicals are used to aid food growth or to feed the animals: it is wholly pesticide free. Nothing is wasted, even the rainwater is recycled. It is a far cry from the half-hearted effort of city recycling, and the problems of civic waste that occur daily within the city of Nottingham. Stonebridge, in this sense, is revolutionary. Yet it wants to go further. They are currently trying to develop a Local Food growing programme called “Green Street” where anybody that wants to learn to grow and eat their own fresh, healthy vegetables, can do so with the help of the farm.
This held particular relevance with me: as a student, I eat lots of vegetables (they’re cheap) and like the idea of growing my own (it’s cool). The idea of being ‘organic’ is one that is fast gaining a fashionable momentum, and Stonebridge, picking up on this, is encouraging people to do it in a 100% natural way. It aims to become a “flagship for environmental living.”
Moreover, they serve cheap food and drinks. A 3-course meal at Stonebridge costs around £2.50; and it is often cooked using 100% pesticide-free ingredients. They also serve cheap tea and coffee: no fuss, but all a good way of contributing to the centre.
At the minute, Stonebridge is generously funded by many sponsors. Nottingham City Council is keen on keeping the farm living and working, aware of the good work it does for the local St. Ann’s community. Other sponsors in the city generously give to their cause: Boots Charitable Trust, Lloyds TSB, JN Derbyshire, Jones 1986, Garfield Weston and O2 have recently donated money to help keep Stonebridge doing its good work.
At present it needs about £200,000 annually to stay open. I was (nicely) lambasted for being ignorant of local Nottingham celebrities Billy Ivory and Shane Meadows, but they too have been involved with the farm in the past.
Notts County Football Club is also a huge supporter of the farm and the St Ann’s community and charitably donates every year. The farm is currently working on a £100,000 National Lottery bid, in order to develop a local fresh, pesticide-free food growingfood-growing programme for local people. That’s what is so inspiring about Stonebridge: it is always looking for new ways to improve the services that they offer, and new ways to involve the whole Nottingham community.
The Stonebridge community want as many people, of all ages, to get involved in the farm. Students are encouraged to come and visit, as many are already involved with marketing for the Ecoworks project and allotments in St. Ann’s: it’s a great way to escape that clichéd student bubble.
Although well-populatedwell populated in the summer, the winter months are often barren with visitors. I can advocate totally that the atmosphere here is a great one, and well worth a visit to pet a farm animal for young and old alike. The more people that visit, the more chance the centre has to stay open and continue its work. I was definitely tempted by the chance to feed a newborn lamb next year…
If I’ve convinced you to come and pay Stonebridge a visit, the centre is open to everybody, everyday, from 10am to 4pm. Even if you just want to see if there really are farm animals in the middle of a residential area of St. Ann’s, I promise you won’t be disappointed!