Heeley City Farm: Staff left stunned by financial decline and call for redundancies
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The charity was ‘always on a knife edge of funding’ one said, but had survived for 40 years by calling on the experience of staff.
But there had been ‘very little fundraising since May’ despite the cost-of-living crisis which had seen prices soar. And many now fear it could close or become ‘unrecognisable from the organisation people know and love’ with parts being sold off. Residents have launched a petition to save the cafe and shop.
The farm, which employs about 50, is consulting on 18 redundancies as part of a rescue plan. In January it was forecast to have £119,000 by the end of this year. Now it is estimated at between £33,000 - £43,000. The cafe, garden centre and beekeeping services could close by January, The Star understands.
The worker, who asked not to be named, said: “The farm means so much to so many. We love it as if it was part of the family. A lot of staff are very skilled in applying for funding and the charity is very good at flexing and adapting. But as far as we know there has been very little fundraising since May and there doesn’t appear to be a back-up plan.”
There was potential funding from fuel poverty advice, a ‘social cafe’ offering cheap meals, ‘grow and eat’ courses and by offering a Warm Space for people unable to afford heating, she added.
Stuart Gillis took over from Sue Pearson as chief executive in May. At the time the farm was said to be in a ‘good financial position’, growing its health and well-being services and securing new funding streams.
Last week, Mr Gillis, sent a letter to staff inviting applications for voluntary redundancy. The aim was to ‘rescue’ the charity before a financial crisis occured, it said. It added: ‘If we don’t act, the charity will go into debt and the situation will keep getting worse’.
Proposed money saving measures included closing the café, garden centre and beekeeping. It added: “These services should not lose money or even make just a small profit. Once control of budgets has been established, the Board of Trustees will be addressing strategic options for how these spaces can best generate income.”
Roles at risk include seven in the cafe and garden centre, three in the food team and eight ‘non customer-facing roles’.
In May, outgoing Sue Pearson said the charity had grown despite Covid and now earned a lot of its own money through the cafe and by selling plants.
She said then: “We do a lot of services for the Government as well. The educational work on adult learning and health and well-being community-based projects.” Projects included cooking courses for people on low incomes and growing, using and eating healthy food.
A public meeting to discuss the rescue plan is at 6pm on Thursday December 15 at Heeley Parish Church, 151 Gleadless Rd. It will be attended by chair of trustees Dave Clarson and chief executive Stuart Gillis.
The Star contacted Mr Gillis for comment.