Gateshead’s Bill Quay Community Farm, a beacon of natural heritage and community involvement, will close in April unless it can become self-financing, say Gateshead Council.
Savage cuts to services in the town have seen the Council announce two years worth of cost reductions, totalling £38m, with the loss of 450 jobs.
Day care centres, crime-reduction partnerships, libraries and community centres will all be cut to the quick, with no loss more keenly felt than that of the Bill Quay Farm.
The farm opened in 1986 as a partnership between the Bill Quay Community Farm Association and Gateshead Council. A 25 acre industrial site was transformed into a thriving community leisure project, restoring the natural heritage of the area and creating one of the greenest banks on Tyneside.
The work has been carried out by volunteers from the local community and includes husbandry of endangered breeds of livestock. The Farm is a Rare Breed Survival Trust Approved Conservation Farm Park, and breeds include Longhorn cattle and Hebridean sheep. Ruby the Tamworth pig took Female Champion at the Royal Show in 2005.
The landscape has been returned to its pre–industrial condition through the re-establishment of woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and hedgerows, and the Farm and its location, with panoramic views of the Tyne, has inspired many creative collaborations and there are striking and original artworks everywhere.
In addition, the the Farm’s Local Food Connection offers local and fair-trade refreshments, along with information environmental issues, renewable technology, freedom food and healthy eating, and in recent years they’ve concentrated much of their work on wellbeing and health with a dedicated arts and activity space which is home to The Farmyard Arts Studio.
The possible closure of the Farm has led to frustration throughout Gateshead, and an online petition has been launched at thepetitionsite.com. Comments have been emotional.
“Bill Quay Farm has been a beacon of good practice in this region, an inspirational place” said Frances Hinton, a former Education Manager at Northumberland Wildlife Trust. “I urge [Gateshead Council] to give more time for the volunteers and Farm to find a sustainable way forward”.
“Please don’t close the farm” says another comment. “It’s a vital part of the community. I went there as a child with school to learn about animals and life. Everyday I walk through the farm with my dog; it’s such a beautiful place and also educational to the children”.
At the time of going to press, Gateshead Council were not responding to requests for a statement.
A place of beauty, the Farm is a space where people of all ages can spend time with animals in their natural environment, a vital link for nearby schools, letting children experience rural life on their doorstep, and making them aware of the various environmental issues of the day.
All of this is in danger of being lost as Gateshead Council consider closing the farm due to the fearsome ‘budget cuts’, which seem to have affected everyone in the UK in some aspect, and once this farm is lost, it can never be brought back, which makes it more important for communities to fight for it to stay open.