Windmill Hill City Farm celebrates 40 years
Published on: 26 Feb 2016
Inner city, community-based farms are part of the furniture now; Bristol has thriving examples at Lawrence Weston and St Werburgh’s as well as Windmill Hill.
There was a time when putting animals and crops in built-up areas seemed a crazy idea. Yet this year Windmill Hill City Farm is marking 40 years since its radical first steps.
The farm offers a range of activities that’s hard to beat, but what makes the centre such an aspirational spot to build community involvement?
In December 2015, the Bristol Evening Post added a visit to Windmill City Farm to its 2016 bucket list, saying the project offers “inner city gorgeousness”.
South Bristolians seem to agree, with reviews calling it “An incredible place that provides so much for the community,” and “One of our favourite places in Bristol, my toddler just loves going to the farm.”
What’s the heritage that’s led to today’s excellent reputation? Steve Sayers, chief executive said: “Go back 250 years and you’d find farmer’s fields around Bedminster.”
But after that the site was used for heavy industry, then slum housing. In the war it was hit by bombs and the site was then lined up to be a lorry park.
“It completes a neat historical circle to see paddocks and gardens back”, Steve said.
Windmill Hill City Farm was founded in 1976 by a group of local people who had a vision for a green oasis among the industrial zones of inner Bristol.
“It’s had its ups and downs and is, to the delight of local people, on a definite ‘up’ for the ruby anniversary,” said Steve. “Through all the changes of the past 40 years it has kept community involvement at its heart and has become an asset that is as well loved as it is used.”
Steve argues the unique environment built up at the farm allows a range of activities that no other single centre in the city can match. “Over 200 families use the children’s nursery, where under fives can range free, learning in the outdoors.
“Another 350 people volunteer each year across the farm, gardens and café; dozens of courses run on topics from making stained glass to keeping pigs; and a vibrant programme of health and social care activities help people with mental health issues, learning difficulties and in recovery from addiction.”
The value of 200 happy children, and life saving addiction therapy is nigh on impossible to measure. And all this is going on in a place that attracts thousands of people to visit and take part in family activities and events.
Plus locals can get a bite to eat in the café, which overlooks the farmyard and serves food which has been grown and reared on site wherever possible.
The farm’s varied and complex community services remain essential, but it offers something simpler too; fresh, accessible outdoors air.
There is a pressing need for this. City centre pollution levels and those on busy roads in South Bristol continue to breach EU limits.
The wider philosophy behind the farm, according to Steve, extends the slogan ‘think global, act local’ into encouraging people to be active citizens.
“It embodies the sense of community that so many people in Windmill Hill, Totterdown and Bedminster say is what they like about living here,” he says. “That sense is reinforced by the hundreds of local people who have become members, giving them a say in how the farm is run and a stake in a key asset for the neighbourhood; not to mention a discount in the café.
“Wander around the farm and you’ll soon get the feeling that there is a genuine two-way exchange going on, local people inputting to the farm and it being a lens to focus their energy into action, that makes a difference to people’s lives.”
This energy is apparent in the rate of change. “In the past two years we have rebuilt the visitor centre, created an outdoor kitchen, two new greenhouses, an outdoor classroom, new nursery spaces and, most recently, a new garden on what used to be a car park,” said Steve.
Change is not over yet though, with plans to expand the popular café and to create an indoor animal interaction centre. It’s the expansion of the farm’s membership base that may have the biggest impact however.
“The more local people get behind the farm, the greater its ‘lensing’ effect will be, focusing people’s energy so they can change their world and have more control in their locality,” Steve said.
• Membership is £10 a year: