Bill Quay Community Farm (Green Flag)

Gateshead Council and Bill Quay Community Farm Association

Over the past 25 years, Bill Quay Community Farm has achieved something remarkable — it has taken a reclaimed patch of industrial land on the banks of the Tyne and turned it into a community farm, specialising in rare breeds. This year it made another breakthrough when it produced a farm audio tour for people with visual impairments. As a result of these efforts, the farm has won a special Green Flag Award for Innovation.

Farm manager Douglas Tuck describes the place as a sort of ‘Ferme Ornee’ or decorative farm. It is designed to be beautiful rather than practical. "People come mainly for the animals. We have Longhorn cattle, Bagot goats, Hebridean sheep and even an award-winning Tamworth pig," says Tuck.

The landscape has deliberately been returned to the state that might have existed before the industrial revolution about 350 years ago. Woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and hedgerows have been re-established. The achievements have been widely recognised — the farm has been declared a Rare Breed Survival Trust Conservation Centre and has been given DEFRA accreditation in its Access to Farms scheme. Tuck points out that the place is now attracting people of all ages. He says some people, who started coming 25 years ago, are now bringing their grandchildren. "We’re on the third generation," he says.

Last year the farm did an audit for access. It found that the needs of blind people were not being met. "We felt we had to do something because a farm has distinctive smells and sounds that blind people can appreciate," Tuck explains. "We got a local talking newspaper group to prepare a tour that can be downloaded onto an MP3 player."

The tour is very anecdotal and is intended to give a strong sense of the history of the site. As a result of these efforts the farm is now used as a destination for an annual Guide Dogs for the Blind event. To help wheelchair users, the farm is also developing a wheelchair trail. The farm has a wide range of activities, including a summer programme of events and walks. It has various food festivals to show people how local foods fit in with the environment. It has just built a Fair Trade café. In addition, it displays an array of artworks that are designed to help people with mental health or addiction problems.

Bill Quay is anxious to spread its influence. The livestock are regularly taken to local shows, and the farm has links with local colleges. These include land-based colleges where the environmental and livestock skills can be practised at the farm, and also art colleges, where the students can get involved in creating new artworks for the farm. As befits a community farm, it has a wide range of volunteers many of whom are currently engaged in building new dry-stone walls.

"The farm serves the entire region,’ says Tuck. "When the sun shines, we’re busy," he adds.

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