I have the privilege of being the Chair of Paddington Farm Trust. This is a 43 acre organic farm in Glastonbury Somerset, set up with legacy funds from the Greater London Council as a resource for children from inner London. It was initially a group of well-meaning and interested Westminster residents that took it on and began a story which continues today…
Since becoming the chair I have worked with the team to make it a social enterprise; a self-sustaining holiday business which provides holiday accommodation and experiences for families who are less well off. In addition, London boroughs like Westminster send children from the Play Service on camping holidays and we at LEYF also take our children down to the farm. Hackney Woodcraft has just had a fabulous time with us.
I read the feedback from the children aged 7 to 13. All of them want to return. The greatest challenge is the eco loos. Favourite activities include feeding the animals, playing on the witch’s hat, gardening, picking food for lunch and running free under the Glastonbury Tor. Old fashioned activities. Not an iPad in sight.
Shaping the farm from a grant funded charity to a social business has been as organic as the farm itself as we worked out the core business and then decided what would best add value to that core. We got stuff wrong; too many volunteers, too many yurts, poor tenancy arrangements, insufficient systems – the stuff that comes from trying to run a business with a group of volunteer trustees. But it was a learning experience and we are nearly there with an almost perfect formula of family holidays with access to an outdoor classroom in the woodland, forest school, willow playground with the Witches Hat, the farm shop, the pigs and sheep, six yurts and the bees. Interspersed are the free ranging chickens and the noisy cockerel. We have two cockerels that spend their time competing with one another which means they are crowing from morning till night. One has got to go!
We are growing a flock of Wiltshire Long Horn sheep with a few waif and strays and orphans added to the mix. I was introduced to ‘Precious Magnolia’ (named by the children) by Lewis aged 15 who is volunteering as often as he can so that he learns how to become a sheep farmer. I certainly learned a lot about lice, shearing and flock management. I used to rely on the Archers Omnibus but it no longer talks about farming so it’s off my radar and gives me a longer lie-in bed on a Sunday morning.
Being a Chair of something so unfamiliar is good for me. It introduces me to another world view. My core understanding and experience of how to build and run a social enterprise is key but applying it to a farm is a whole different ball of hay. I have learned about drainage, single farm payments and animal husbandry, badly behaved hens, honesty boxes and mattresses. I have also been introduced to the ‘other worldly’ Glastonbury with its crystal gazing, sweat boxes, ceremonies and spinning!
If you get the chance to visit the farm, please do. If you get a chance to join a Board of Trustees to apply your skills and energy to something quite different then do that too. Be prepared to learn and engage – the personal gain is fantastic.