Farm charity seeking to harvest more cash help

Whirlow Hall Farm
Whirlow Hall Farm

Whirlow Hall Farm offers experiences that are life-changing to youngsters who have never before been to the countryside, much less had a holiday.

But now its work is facing cutbacks unless new supporters come forward.

The charity was set up in 1979 as a centre where inner-city children could experience the wonders of the countryside. More than 10,000 children go each year from more than 100 schools across Sheffield and many of them have special needs or disabilities.

But those who gain the greatest benefit come from some of the city’s most poverty-stricken communities. And the experience is made possible only thanks to a small band of suited and booted fairy godmothers.

The 480 Club is made up of corporate sponsors who each donate £480 – enabling 12 children from a nominated school to stay on the farm for two nights.

Jane Brailsford, who teaches at a school in the north of Sheffield, said: “Many of our children have never enjoyed a family holiday; some have never been outside Sheffield. Staying on a farm is a dream come true.

“The sponsorship of the 480 Club enables us to target our most needy and vulnerable children… It really does make a huge difference to their lives.”

When the scheme was first launched eight years ago, membership was sufficient to support all schools which asked for help. But as the recession took hold, numbers decreased – and at the same time the demand for financial support is increasing.

Now trustees are being forced to turn schools away.

“We’re fighting all the time,” said Joan Ward, Whirlow Hall’s head of fundraising. “Two major business organisations have now pulled out because of the economic climate and that has reduced the number of sponsorships we can offer by five.

“It’s very hard to put across what this will mean to the children but a lot of them just won’t get the opportunity without financial support.”

Last year more than one in three of the visiting schools met criteria for 480 Club support (awarded when at least 25% of pupils are eligible for free school meals).

The scheme currently has 53 members but three schools have already had to be turned away this term – and there are another 20 awaiting sponsorship for the next academic year.

“It means fewer schools are able to take advantage of the farm and those that are missing out are probably those that would benefit most,” said Joan.

“We want to get the message out there that we’re looking for new sponsors to sign up.”

The classroom in the countryside is set on a 138-acre working farm growing barley, potatoes, turnips and fruit. Livestock includes around 250 sheep, an intensive pig unit, a herd of beef cows and 200 free-range hens.

It generates a turnover of £600,000 a year and heavily subsidises all educational visits. But it still needs another £300,000 per year to balance the books.

In return for their donation, 480 Club members are invited to meet the children they sponsor and see the farm through their eyes.

Authorised photos taken during the visit can be used as a memento or for PR purposes.

“It also gives a sense of wellbeing, knowing that you have provided one of Sheffield’s most disadvantages schools with an experience they will never forget,” said Joan.

Companies may sponsor as many schools as they choose; individual sponsors are also welcomed at a rate of £40 per month.

Contact Joan Ward at Whirlow Hall Farm Trust: (0114) 235 2678.