In 1996 there was concern that several of the tenants were expressing dissatisfaction with the routine of the activities in the day centres, that their lifestyle was sedentary and that healthier eating might decrease/ameliorate the obesity problem. It was also thought that horticulture would be therapeutic and that a smallholding/farm might address these problems and also promote more integration & interaction with the local community.
In February 1997 our third manager was successful in obtaining a 3 year £30,000 grant from the European Peace and Reconciliation fund towards the development of an urban farm. After discussion with a consultant from the agricultural college we were advised that it would be sensible to concentrate on growing vegetables and fruit using organic principles and that a limited stock of small animals would be possible although the daily attention and constant supervision involved was emphasised. A paper was produced on the objectives and terms of reference and after a small sub committee was appointed, it was realised that further funding would be necessary to cover the salary of a farm manager. In view of the limited land on the Kilcreggan Homes site, negotiations began with the council about the possibility of acquiring the .75 hectare plot of waste land adjoining the Homes.
Six months later a pilot of the farm was started on a temporary site and the farm was formally launched with neighbours specifically asked to join the staff and tenants. The farm comprised pigs, ducks, hens, goat and rabbits as well as a polytunnel. The tenants were highly involved both in working on the farm and in showing visitors around. In 1998 our first farm supervisor was appointed and shortly afterwards a considerable grant (£79,000) was obtained from a local voluntary body to rehabilitate the derelict site which the farm leased from the local council and planning permission was obtained for two buildings – one a straw bale building for use as a project room and a wooden building containing office and kitchen. Although further funding was obtained for the straw bale building, the expense of the intended Walter Segal building was too great and we opted for a cheaper portacabin.
By the end of the second year the permanent site was fenced, animal houses erected, paths were laid down and the polytunnel was erected. The ground was extremely stony and drainage was poor so raised beds were necessary and the poor soil was enriched with farm compost.
Local school interaction began with our tenants giving talks on keeping rabbits and local school children were involved in tree planting. The straw bale building began with the involvement of tenants but unfortunately early in the millennium the incomplete building was destroyed by arson. Despite this unfortunate set back, development continued. The front of the site was planted with native trees behind which lay a wildflower meadow. Education was considered and the farm was registered for OCR, pre NVQs, in horticulture and animal care.
The work on the farm was labour intensive both physically and in terms of staff involvement, interaction and supervision of tenants. It was realised that the farm would never be able to cover its costs by production, but it could provide a service, such as training and daytime occupation and support for other vulnerable people from the community and thereby be self sustaining. In the interim, revenue was required to fund the staff salaries and capital resources were necessary to fund a new building before this stage was feasible.
Extremely lengthy grant applications were made and in the interim we were at a critical stage with dwindling resources and salaries for three farm staff to be met. Our manager miraculously kept the urban farm solvent by negotiating salaries for the farm staff by getting NIHE to accept the farm as a communal area of Kilcreggan. Heartened by this achievement, we began to plan the new building and opted for an architect designed timber building.
We had a funding application accepted in 2003 by the Lottery through the Transforming Your Space programme for £95,000, and a further grant from Ulster Garden Villages. As a result plans were produced for a prestigious new building and we were also able to appoint a Development Officer.
Unfortunately 2005 was a difficult year – an offer of funding was withdrawn so there was not sufficient money to pay for the proposed building and the area health board was not optimistic about the possibility of funding day attendance for vulnerable adults on the farm. Negotiations to use direct payments in respect of one tenant also failed. In view of the difficulties encountered in obtaining new funding it was finally decided to attempt to build a timber building within our present budget and at worst we could acquire a further portacabin. The Development Officer and a member of the farm committee investigated a range of timber buildings and decided that Wildwood Cabins could supply an appropriate building. Project management was handled by Community Technical Aid, after the agreement of the Lottery Fund to the changed plans.
Two years ago the Lottery fund agreed that the proposed new building could proceed and as the building was being erected, interest about its use was expressed in the neighbourhood, health boards and a supported employment centre.
When our present Manager took up his post in May 2006, the new building was under construction and even at that stage interest about its use was expressed in the neighbourhood, by Health Boards and by a Supported Employment Centre. The new building was completed in October 2006 and comprises a spacious project room and kitchen, office and toilets, the total area being _____sq metres. The post of Development Officer was extended for a further few months to concentrate on funding applications.
The third polytunnel, funded by voluntary organisations was built; in spring and early summer of 2007 eleven of our tenants worked hard in planting up 300 hanging baskets and containers and a contract was secured from the local Chamber of Commerce for hanging baskets. The turnover from the floral displays was £7,500.
The farm livestock comprised banties, hens, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, goats and even a small pony. The free range egg production generated over £3,000 over the year.
In April 2007 funding was obtained from the Northern Health and Social Services Trust to implement a twelve month fixed term work training programme for community based clients with a learning disability. The funding included the salary of a Day Opportunities Co-ordinator to run the project.
Funding was also obtained from a statutory body to employ a Youth Worker to run a programme for twelve months with the aim of integrating able bodied and disabled children in farm based activities in the evenings and at week ends.
A further negotiation resulted in the first community based client being enabled to buy training services using Direct Payments.
In September 2007 the Children's Programme began with 20 – 25 children from the immediate community attending regularly in the evenings and at week ends and their involvement will continue over the summer holidays. There is now a waiting list for attendance on the programme.
In the same month seventeen day opportunity clients began to attend for two days a week for a year to participate in a structured and focused programme whereby they are involved in a variety of practical jobs to provide evidence for an OCR – Preparation for Employment qualification.
The clients started training in September 2007 and initially a base line assessment of their work skills was made.
At two months there was a multi disciplinary meeting to discuss progress with the client, his parents, social worker/Trust community worker and farm manager. All clients were content, except one who left the programme.
At six months there was a further meeting to discuss the possible type of work when the course finished. The majority plan to move on to work experience, voluntary placements or paid jobs while it was deemed beneficial for a ⅓ to remain in the programme for a further year.
At ten/twelve months there will be a further meeting to formalise the end of the course, when there will be portfolio feedback from OCR and a presentation ceremony will be held. There is staff funding for a further year of the programme and a waiting list for places.