THE biggest fundraising event of the year at Whirlow Hall Farm attracted close to 7,000 people last Sunday, despite the showers.
Head of fundraising Joan Ward hoped the better weather would help her team raise £20,000 for farm activities as a result of the fayre. “We need £300,000 a year to keep going,” she said.
The farm offers education and days or weekends away to children and young people, many of whom have never had the chance to see a farm before, let alone stay on one.
“A lot of the inner city kids who come here have never seen the countryside,” said fundraising and events officer Sarah Kerrigan.
“One boy said when he got here: ‘Am I in Wales?‘ - and he’d only come from the north of Sheffield.”
The farm hosts visits from about 11,000 children a year. They learn about farms and farming, and just as importantly in many cases, learn how to get on and socialise with other children and adults in an ‘out of home’ setting.
Many visits are from pupils with special needs, who live in poverty, or in homes with alcohol or domestic violence problems. “For these children, a nurturing environment is very beneficial, for example, simply having a hot chocolate before being tucked up in bed,” said Sarah.
The farm has been in operation for 27 years, and the financial climate at present is tough.
Joan said: “It’s hard to balance the books, but we are doing at the moment.”
The team of dedicated staff and over 100 volunteers is crucial, along with continuing support from local individuals and companies. One farm scheme, the 480 Club, signs up local companies with a £480 donation to help sponsor a visit for a single disadvantaged school (defined as a school with over 25% of pupils on free school meals).
There are 60 local companies in the club already, but Joan said she’d like the figure to grow to 150.
She accepts that corporate budgets for community or charitable work are often tight these days, when they exist at all. Some companies organise their own fundraising event to join the 480 club.
The farm now uses its buildings to provide a teaching space for outside companies, which makes additional income, and the farm itself is actually expanding.
“It is a working farm, and we’re expanding all the time,” said Joan. “As well as the soft fruit, we now offer pick your own vegetables, with pumpkins, potatoes, chillies, peppers tomatoes and courgettes, for example. We aim to have vegetables available all year round eventually - at the moment we’re coming into the time for pumpkins.”
The farm shop is open every day selling farm produced meat, eggs, fruit and veg, although it will close on Mondays during the winter. The farm cafe is also open at weekends.
Joan pointed out that although the farm itself helps to raise some income, its main aim is as an educational resource.
“There are still children out there who need educating. One boy came up and said he’d just seen a lion - it was actually a Shetland pony.
“Another refused to eat our eggs because they came from a hen’s bottom, and not from Tesco. He had no idea that chickens laid eggs.”
The farm also runs events to help raise funds. Beer and Bangers comedy nights are part of the Grin Up North comedy festival on October 1 and 29, and the Freaky Friday family Hallowe’en party is on October 28. The Christmas Fair is on November 28.
Times are more difficult for charities like Whirlow Hall Farm, said Joan, and the simple fact is that at a time when charities are being expected to meet all kinds of social needs, they also have to compete with each other.
“There are so many charities fighting for the same money, and you could say we are not as ‘emotional’ as other charities. But we do make a difference.”
Sarah joined the farm just over a year ago after leaving a job in retail to do something ‘more worthwhile’. “The demand is getting greater, more and more schools are waiting to come, so I’d say to local companies, come and speak to us.”
“Their £480 donation can help a group of children to stay here for a weekend,” said Joan. “A corporate table at a local restaurant can cost more than that.”
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