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Threat of cuts and redundancies at Heeley City Farm

Residents fear the closure of the cafe and garden centre at the community hub that supports disabled and young people in the city, as a result of financial 'rescue plan' approved by its board.

Cafe at Heeley City Farm

The cafe at Heeley City Farm.

Sam Walby

UPDATE: At a sometimes-tense public meeting on Thursday 15 December, representatives of Heeley City Farm said 17 of its 47 staff are facing redundancy across its cafe, garden centre, growing operations and back office, in line with the 'rescue plan' approved by the board.

CEO Stuart Gillis said the farm's cafe will close in mid to late January "for a period of time", once a redundancy consultation is complete. Trustees say the deficit in the charity's budget is around £100,000.

Redundancies and cuts to services are feared at Heeley City Farm as the organisation launches a financial ‘rescue plan’ which it says will ensure its survival into 2023.

There are particular concerns about the future of the cafe and garden centre in the light of an announcement from the much-loved community hub on 12 December:

Heeley City Farm are implementing a financial rescue plan to help the Charity continue to support its many clients and the wider local community. After carefully considering all the options, including closure, the board unanimously backed the rescue plan.

The new Chair, Dave Clarson, said 'After three decades of working to help build Sheffield's modern voluntary sector, I am determined to help save one of Sheffield's most loved and valued institutions. Like many local charities, we have a difficult road ahead of us. The Farm is rich with potential, but our first task is to survive. This means costs must be cut, and with deep regret for the people involved, some jobs will be lost.

'An invitation to express interest in voluntary redundancies is being sought from staff, and all options will be considered to avoid compulsory redundancies. The café and the garden centre do provide a community service, however, we also need our commercial services to contribute to the charity's finances. A new approach is needed to address this, and we do envisage the café re-opening in some form during 2023.

'Heeley City Farm is facing a major challenge and I ask local people to support us as we take measures to ensure the Farm can play its part in the future of our city; the farm's Trustees will make further announcements on sustaining Heeley City Farm in 2023.'

Campaigners say that the cafe makes a profit and the charity’s recent financial statements appear to back this up.

Even in the first year of the pandemic, the farm's income in 2020 was £150,000 higher than in 2019 and the charity named “earned income from trading and sales of produce” as one of their Principal Funding Sources, along with contract income, grant income and donations in their 2020 accounts. Its total gross income that year was £1.08m. The organisation’s 2021 accounts are overdue and therefore not publicly available.

While the statement released by the charity does not explicitly state that the cafe and garden centre are closing, its cryptic wording has led many to understand that they are both under threat and may not reopen as normal in the new year.

Local residents have started a petition to save the farm’s cafe and garden centre, asking the charity’s CEO and Chair for “accurate information about what exactly the changes are going to be and the reasons behind the decision,” and showing “solidarity with the workers who have been impacted by this decision,” who could be facing redundancy. Comments from signatories talk of the centre as a vital community resource, especially for disabled people and young people.

The Star reports that the farm is “consulting on 18 redundancies” out of the staff of 50 people. An unnamed member of staff told the paper, “As far as we know there has been very little fundraising since May and there doesn’t appear to be a back-up plan.”

Questions from Now Then to Heeley City Farm CEO Stuart Gillis and Chair Dave Clarson about the organisation’s finances, redundancies and the future of its cafe and garden centre went unanswered. Instead, we were referred to a public meeting this evening at Heeley Parish Church, at which the charity says it “will address questions and issues arising” from its statement this week.

Heeley City Farm was established in 1981 on land which was cleared of derelict housing for the construction of the Sheffield South Relief road, also known as the Heeley bypass. The road, which was strongly opposed by residents, was never built and the farm was subsequently developed by Heeley Residents Association.

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