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Freightliners City Farm at 40: A refuge from city life 5 minutes from Holloway Road

PUBLISHED: 10:53 04 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:16 04 April 2018

An archive photo of children at Freightliners City Farm in Holloway. Picture: Bob Bray/Freightliners City Farm

An archive photo of children at Freightliners City Farm in Holloway. Picture: Bob Bray/Freightliners City Farm

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Freightliners City Farm in Holloway is celebrating its 40th anniversary amid a funding crisis. Chief exec Liz McCallister explains how it became such a valuable community asset over those four decades.

Monday's Easter fun day at Freightliners Farm. Callum Croft, aged eight, with Fred the Buff Orpington. Picture: Polly HancockMonday's Easter fun day at Freightliners Farm. Callum Croft, aged eight, with Fred the Buff Orpington. Picture: Polly Hancock

Freightliners City Farm is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Even though it’s actually 45.

The farm has been bringing joy to kids and families in Sheringham Road, Holloway, since 1978.

But chief exec Liz McCallister, who has worked there for 17 years, says its origins actually go back a further five years.

“We’re not 100 per cent certain of how it started,” Liz admits. “But we think it goes back to 1973, where the Maiden Lane Estate is now, on the other side of the Cally.

Freightliners Farm staff and volunteers, including Liz McCallister (back, centre). Picture: Polly HancockFreightliners Farm staff and volunteers, including Liz McCallister (back, centre). Picture: Polly Hancock

“We do know it was a community group coming together wanting to keep their own animals, grow food and live a bit of the good life. There was always a focus on children and young people, and giving them a safe space.

“The ’70s was when traffic was becoming more dangerous for kids in the streets,” Liz expands. “A city farm would have been somewhere to explore in a safe environment.”

The farm moved to its current site in 1978. Again, the exact story is sketchy.

Liz laughs: “I don’t know quite what happened but it was probably semi-squatted on. It started with temporary fencing and the animals being kept in the back of an old freight wagon. It was all very makeshift.

Freightlinders City Farm under construction in the late '70s. Picture: Freightlinders City FarmFreightlinders City Farm under construction in the late '70s. Picture: Freightlinders City Farm

“But the idea of city farms being good for urban communities had been recognised for long enough that eventually Islington Council offered the site permanently and it developed from there.”

The fundamental rule of Freightliners is that it’s always free. About 40,000 people visit every year.

It’s also good for your health. Surveys carred out by a research company for the farm found 88pc of people felt less worried and anxious after visiting, with 92pc feeling more part of their community.

And 82pc feel they know more about animals after having the chance to look after them at Freightliners.

Monday's Easter fun day at Freightliners Farm. Visitors meet Steve the lop-eared rabbit, held by Grace Butler who is on work experience at the farm. Picture: Polly HancockMonday's Easter fun day at Freightliners Farm. Visitors meet Steve the lop-eared rabbit, held by Grace Butler who is on work experience at the farm. Picture: Polly Hancock

“During those 40 years,” Liz says, “Freightliners has become very much entrenched in the community. People who came here as kids now take their own kids. It’s always been about bringing people togther in an outdoor space to interact with animals and do hands-on stuff.

“One thing people have really valued over the years is the consistency its gives. We are always there for them.

“A lot of people says it’s a refuge from city life – and you wouldn’t know it’s five minutes away from Holloway Road.”

Though 2018 is a year of celebration for Freightliners, there’s also nagging doubt. Its future is under threat.

Liz McCallister at Freightliners Farm. Picture: Polly HancockLiz McCallister at Freightliners Farm. Picture: Polly Hancock

‘Money is harder to come by’

It relies entirely on grant funding, which is becoming increasingly sparse. Liz estimates the farm is going to need £30,000 a year to keep afloat from now on. It also needs to carry out important renovation work.

“We’re reliant on project grants. They do seem to be getting harder to come by. There’s more need at the moment, and the money from the charities has to be spread further.

“It’s vital to retain free entry and ensure we’re as accessible as possible.”

To raise the money, the farm has launched a “5 ways to help” campaign. These are though standard donations, co-funding its classroom project, sponsoring its London Marathon runners, running in its annual sponsored “cow v pig” race and doing individual fundraisers such as tea parties and cake sales.

For more information, visit freightlinersfarm.org.uk/5waystohelp

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