30 years after bypass protest city farm is going strong

Hannah Stanton in the  Garden centre.
Hannah Stanton in the Garden centre.
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It started with a community protest against a new bypass and 30 years later is one of Sheffield’s most enduring attractions.

Heeley City Farm celebrates its 30th birthday today and has come a long way over the last three decades.

The story behind the popular farm is one of people power, when a determined community made something positive rise out of the ruins of a old council estate.

A dedicated group of families came together to stop the proposed Heeley Bypass and when victory was declared the land was left derelict.

With just £20 in the bank and scant knowledge of looking after animals, they seized the moment and opened a small farm there.

Chief executive John LeCorney, who has been involved since the beginning, said: “When we started we had half a dozen chickens and a couple of goats.

“I think most of us thought the farm would last a couple of years but it has just grown. We captured a bit of a public moment to do something new and different. After we won the campaign to stop the road being built the houses that on the site were unfit to live in.

“Anybody who wanted to move was rehoused from the site to new council houses. The site was cleared of houses and we wanted to do something positive with it. A farm seemed a good idea and suitably wacky.”

There have been many ups and downs along the way but from the darkest days - when three horses were killed as arsonists burned down the stables in 1995 - came the brightest memories.

John said he was overwhelmed at the out-pouring of public support the farm received as the news spread.

“The most heartening thing was two days after the fire when there were people of all ages bringing in buckets of pennies,” he said.

“For about two weeks after we had two people working full time to deal with people bringing in donations.

“They were buckets of 2ps and 5ps but it was the reaction of the people - here was a tragedy that reached the whole of Sheffield.”

The farm’s land hasn’t increased since it opened on August 5, 1981 but the attractions certainly have.

There is now a cafe, children’s play area and lots of rare breeds of animals, as well as several environmental initiatives including the South Yorkshire Energy Centre.

Staff at the farm also still work with unemployed youngsters and adults with learning disabilities to pass on new skills.

The first grant applied for back in the eighties was turned down by the EU because the farm was too small.

Now other people come to them for advice because it is known as the most diversified farm in the country.

n Don’t miss two-pages of nostalgic Heeley City Farm photos in Saturday’s Retro.