The sun has been shining, the flowers have been blooming, and the lambs and chicks have been born. You’ve been able to feel the warmth on your skin and sweet scents as you’ve walked around your neighbourhood. Yes, spring has definitely come and gone, but the annual ritual of heading down to the farm to check out the newborns remains incomplete. Nottingham’s community farms haven’t been able to enjoy spring as much as usual, as lockdown has seen their income disappear entirely at a time when visitor numbers would have been at their peak. We speak to Anthony Moore from White Post Farm and Stonebridge City Farm’s Peter Armitage to find out how they’ve been coping during COVID, and how you can help support them…
We’re extremely lucky that in Nottinghamshire, whether you’re in the city or tucked away on the outskirts, these two brilliant farms are easily accessible. They both provide entertainment and education for the local communities and strive to make these aspects as brilliant and rewarding as possible, while providing a home for their animals. It’s fair to say that White Post and Stonebridge City Farms are essential parts of Nottingham’s identity, and both have had a lot to be proud of throughout the years. Stonebridge City Farm’s General Manager Peter Armitage explains, “In 2019, we had over 1000 school children visit Stonebridge on a structured educational visit, and we have grown our volunteer group from ninety to 140 in two years.” 2019 also saw the farm launch an urgent appeal for donations that raised £126,000, demonstrating the vital role it plays in the community.
Anthony Moore, Farm Manager at White Post Farm, tells me, “One of the things I’m most proud of was organising White Post’s thirtieth birthday nearly two years ago – it was such a cool event, we had music and it had a real festival feel.” He continues, “It was such an amazing feeling knowing that people wanted to celebrate with us.” Their animals have also had their share of viral hits: In 2009 Darren the Waving Goat had several offers of stardom, including an offer from Britain's Got Talent. “That was my favourite ever headline from the BBC,” he laughs, “It was 'Nottinghamshire Waving Goat Snubs Simon Cowell’ – they turned into some kind of ridiculous personal attack from a goat!”
Both farms also nurture a sense of belonging with its staff. “I think that one of the reasons why we're so successful is because of the family feel that you get at White Post Farm,” Anthony attests. “We're genuinely friends! Everyone at the farm is there because they love animals and, because of that, they're happy. Customers notice that.” Stonebridge also fosters a close-knit community – the vast majority of their volunteers have learning difficulties or mental health challenges, and the farm aims to help them increase their independence, social skills and wellbeing. Peter tells me, “For people who are more vulnerable, more marginalised in society and in Nottingham, we give them an opportunity to live a life such as you and I might wish in terms of work opportunities.”
Having such an emotional connection to what they do has made the struggles they’ve faced during COVID-19 even more difficult. Unlike most businesses that can wind down their shutters and utilise the furlough scheme for staff, the farms cannot simply shut down. Their animals still need constant care, be it cleaning, well-being check-ups or feeding, and money for their food usually comes from visitors, which have obviously stopped completely during lockdown. Anthony explains, “Our owners have got the stress of trying to work out how they can sustain the business as well as looking after the animals – they're the ones who are out feeding, doing health care for the animals… The farm industry seems to be a weird anomaly that hasn't quite had the help we thought we would,” he tells me, voice shaky with emotion. “While we’re closed it's still costing us around £20,000 a month. We are so close to not being able to open at all.”
Wanting to at least make sure the animals had food, White Post put a call out for donations of fodder, and were amazed to get enough for three months’ worth. Anthony explains, “We did a live video on our social media, and I walked past our storage barn to show everyone what the money had done. It's full of these giant bales of hay and straw, bedding and food. This situation has been mentally draining, but the affirmations that we got from donations and knowing that people love the farm put us in a more secure position in terms of surviving.” As well as this, White Post has been really active on social media, hosting quiz nights and bedtime stories for its Facebook supporters – which you can access for just £3.49 a month.
“The affirmations that we got from donations and knowing that people love the farm put us in a more secure position in terms of surviving”
Stonebridge has also had to adapt to a new set of challenges. Peter tells me, “We’ve worked on the basis that if you can’t come to the farm then we will bring the farm to you. We devised a new website and had it up and running within ten days of lockdown so that we’re able to post much more regular news, pictures and resources of what’s going on at the farm.” If you missed seeing the new woolly members of the farm, they covered that too: “When the lambs were born we put videos of them out so that the public, who would have normally come to the farm, could still see them, albeit remotely.”
As well as providing educational resources for schools that would normally be toddling off to see them this time of year, Stonebridge has been providing welfare resources for its volunteers, as regularly working at the farm is a huge part of their activities: “We send out weekly resource packs to them, we have one-to-one calls, we have workshops. The feedback we’re getting in terms of how useful people are finding it in helping them to reduce social exclusion and maintain their best state of mental well-being is extremely positive.” He continues, “The farm might not be open at the moment but the work we do as a charity and achieving the social outcomes we seek is still very much ongoing.” The farm has also been donating meals, flowers and produce it would normally sell to local organisations in the area.
While these times have clearly hit the farming industry hard, these two Nottinghamshire organisations still have positive, passionate attitudes. “It’s just so unusual to see the farm empty because of the buzz that we would normally have – the sound of laughter, the families and the children who can spend as much time as they wish on the playground, with the animals, in the gardens,” Peter elucidates. “But I am so impressed and proud of the team and what they’ve been able to do in terms of working and supporting people remotely.”
Looking to the future, they’ve both been making preparations for re-opening. Prior to lockdown, White Post acquired a zoo licence and had built a bird of prey falconry centre as well as a wallaby walkthrough system. “It does mean that we will have this amazing attraction once we can re-open,” Anthony declares. “I think we'll re-open as a very different attraction in terms of capacity, customer flow, proper hygiene and social distancing measures, but it will still be an amazing experience – if we can go ahead soonish.”
But they aren’t counting their chickens just yet – this all relies on them being able to re-open, which still isn’t a guarantee for either of them. Whether you can spare pennies, pounds or a like and share online, anything you can do to help them stay alive will definitely be greatly appreciated. Of what they’ve had so far, Anthony concludes, “The support from the public we’ve received has made us even more determined to go above and beyond – we're just sincerely and genuinely grateful.”