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Surrey Docks Farm - November 2020

Behind the Gates

The Farm may be closed to visitors but there's still lots of activity going on behind the gates. Read on to find out what each project has been up to over the last month! 

We saw some big changes in November as the large polytunnel was taken down to prepare for the installation of a new accessible greenhouse. The foundation work, levelling and paving has been completed this month ready for the greenhouse to be made to fit and installed in the new year!
The new greenhouse will bring many benefits. It will provide a much bigger accessible training space for our adult students with learning disabilities. We'll be able to increase our food growing capacity, selling more quality fresh vegetables to local residents. Toughened glass panels will enable visitors and school children to see inside and learn how food grows. Finally it will reduce plastic waste, as we currently have to re-skin the polytunnel every two years due to bird and fox damage.
This has all been possible thanks to generous funding from the Bailey Thomas Charitable Fund, Finnis Scott Foundation and Southwark Council.


We were delighted to see our Riverfront Development recognised by the Mayor of London in the New London Awards (NLA) this month. Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills commented: “Exemplary in its approach to circular economy principles. It takes a holistic approach in addressing the climate emergency from construction to use to end of life [and] social inequalities." 
PUP Architects who designed the project following our community and participation consultation were interviewed by NLA and can be seen talking about the project here
Our Riverfront Development has also been recognised as a regional finalist in the Civic Trust Awards 2021. The results of the national judging panel will be announced in January!
Thank you again to all our funders who made this development possible, including Southwark Council, Veolia Environmental Trust and United St Saviour’s Charity. We look forward to fully utilising this space post pandemic.


Thanks to the Young Trustees Movement who delivered an interesting and informative training session that our Manager attended. We’re developing our board recruitment pack and will be advertising for additional board members in the new year. We're keen to engage one or two people who are under thirty, in line with our commitment to be youth-led. Keep an eye out for further details next year!

Support the Farm

Thank you to everyone who has continued to support with donations through our campaign page and/or given regularly through our Friends of the Farm scheme. We can't bring back our income generating activities yet, so your support through donations and by purchasing from our online farm shop, continues to be vital to the Farm's future. 

We have relocated our model cow and donation churn 'Daisy' and have gratefully received cash donations again from those visiting our river gardens and enjoying the views over our farm yard. Thanks to all who have given in this way, every penny really does count!


Do you shop at Co-op? Did you know you can now support the Farm’s Youth Programme whilst buying your groceries via the Local Community Fund. You’ll need to be a Co-op member and chose the Farm as your local cause.


November has been a month of change with our livestock. Winnie's piglets turned two months old and are now huge! They're fully weaned and moved up to the yard pens to give mum a rest. Her sister Marmalade has moved back in with her in the pig house by the fields and Rupert our boar is settled in the pig house next door.

As a working farm we produce our own meat on a small scale and are proud to rear animals to high welfare standards. We aim to help people understand where their food comes from. We hope this encourages people to think more about what they eat and consider where they shop.

This month our oldest litter of pigs as well as this year's goats and lambs were ready to move off and we will have pork, goat and lamb in stock early December. Not all animals go for meat, we also rehomed several of our female Anglo Nubian goat kids who have moved on to other farms both as pets and for breeding.

The farming cycle continues and we welcomed a large Anglo Nubian billy goat and an Oxford Down ram to join our herd and flock for breeding. With the wet weather our paddocks are too boggy for the animals to use, as they risk foot rot. You can now see our goats, sheep, donkeys and pony in the yard until the drier weather returns!


You may have noticed that netting has been put up over our duck pond. DEFRA have announced increasing outbreaks of Avian Influenza across the country and we're in a higher risk area due to migrating wildfowl using the Thames river. To reduce the risk of wild birds transmitting this to our birds and in line with DEFRA guidelines, we've covered the pen until the risk is reduced.
Our chickens are also affected by this, so we've opened their barn door on to a pen near the pigs to create a safe covered outdoor area for them - which is why you won't see the chickens in the yard at present.


Our dedicated livestock volunteers attend in small numbers for set shifts working out on the Farm. They provide essential animal care support - helping feed, exercise and muck out the animals in all weather.
This month we were delighted to recognise two of our youth volunteers’ contributions with an Achievement Award from Jack Petchey Foundation.


We're now recruiting for adults to help with regular weekday shifts. See our website for details.

Training Projects

Cow Pat

This month the Cow Pat team have been busy looking after the donkeys. Both the morning and afternoon group enjoy mucking out the donkeys and pony so we have been rotating between the two each week. The Cow Pat team are now confident changing the donkeys coats and picking out their hooves. This is a real achievement as the donkeys and pony are not always the best behaved and you need to be confident dealing with them!
We have also been taking the donkeys and pony for walks around the Farm. Unfortunately due to the current restrictions we can't take them out along the river path. however we are taking them on circuits inside the Farm which is proving a bit more challenging as there are lots of lovely vegetables and plants which they like to try and eat!
We would like to say a big thank you to our supporters who have given kind donations of treats for the rabbits and guinea pigs recently. The rabbits are particularly enjoying their carrot flavoured edible house! 


Plot to Shop

This month we have finished planting up our small polytunnel and outside beds with seeds and plug plants which will be ready to harvest next Spring.
In the outside beds we have been sown Autumn varieties of broad beans (aquadulce) and peas (meteor) as well as winter-hardy salad varieties such as rocket, mustard, lambs lettuce, endive and chicory. We have planted up the small polytunnel with winter varieties of lettuce (winter destiny and marvel of four seasons), spinach, fennel and chard.
The team also planted up primulas and pansies which sold out in record time through the Gardening Shop. We still have some of the primulas in small pots available here with the last collection on Sunday 20th December this year!


New Leaf

This month has seen big changes to New Leaf’s growing space – the large polytunnel has come down and we are really excited about the new greenhouse that is now being built in its place!
As the weather has become colder everyone has been keeping warm with physical gardening jobs, including filling a new hot-bed by the small polytunnel. The hot-bed is filled with wood chippings and recycled coffee grounds from the Barn Kiosk, which will create heat as they decompose. This heat will help us to extend our growing season during colder months by providing extra warmth for the small polytunnel.

Meanwhile, everyone has been busy planting and harvesting winter crops – Andrew, Lou and Helen have been planting peas, onions and garlic, and Michael’s broad beans and peas are already coming up after planting a few weeks ago. Tony and Michael have also been harvesting medlars and lots of celery which has proven very popular in the Farm Shop!


Farm Produce

This month Farm Produce students have been getting to grips with using yeast, making different sorts of bread and pizza. They have also been processing green tomatoes to freeze and turn into chutney to sell in the farm shop, as well as making loganberry, gooseberry and rhubarb and ginger jam.


You can sample the students' culinary skills and support our training projects by purchasing these chutneys and jams via our online farm shop here.


During the Farm's closure we've been posting on our social media sites on a daily basis to keep everyone up to date on what's going on here - and that includes wildlife sightings!

We've created a new webpage to record the wildlife we've been able to photograph so do have a look here.

This month's highlights include lots of grey squirrel thieves, our house sparrows chattering away in our hedges and bathing in the wildlife pond, plus lots of goldfinches feeding from our bird feeders in the wildlife garden.

One of our hard working Farm Gym volunteers did a fantastic job planting young hedge whips behind the duck pond. We’re increasing our hedges across the site to support wildlife and in particular our thriving house sparrow population.

Huge thank you to our supporters for purchasing seed feeders from our Amazon Wishlist. The wild birds at the Farm have a huge appetite and if you'd like to help feed them, more food can be bought for them on our Amazon Wishlist find out more here.


A new feature has become exposed on the foreshore in front of the Farm, where the mud and stones have been washed away. There's two sets of parallel wooden posts, with chalk deposits surrounding them. It may be a revetment - a structure built to support the foreshore, or the remains of a barge bed support.
Barge beds were flat platforms built up against wharves, made up of rubble, chalk etc held together in a wooden structure, on which barges could rest safely and evenly when the tide went out. If this is the case, then this would probably date back to when the site was a timber wharf, from about 1816 until 1882, when there would have been barges here all the time loading and unloading timber. The ground around this feature is eroding very quickly, so we should be able to see more of it soon.


Youth Programmes

The second lockdown in November meant we had to resume our online youth services, with weekly quizzes, Zoom chats and games.

The Young Farmers have been working collaboratively to design new signage for the wildlife garden fencing on the Thames Path for their Wild About Wildlife crowdfunded project. Young people have been researching pond habitats, the importance of insects to ecosystems, UK bird life and the flora which supports such a wide variety of wildlife. The teams have been working hard at home drawing and painting wildlife for their signs and each week they collate the images and work together on the next stages of their designs. Working this way during lockdown has given the young people a common purpose and something to look forward to when they can come back to the Farm in December. 

The Young Farmers took part in a workshop with the Food Foundation to help inform a new National Food Strategy. The children gave their ideas, thoughts and opinions on links between food and money, health and the environment. A small number of Young Farmers have been selected to represent the Farm at the next strategy meeting where they will advocate for young people's needs surrounding food to DEFRA and supermarket representatives. 

One of the Farm's young volunteers won the Young Volunteer of the Year Award with Community Southwark this month. This is to recognise his extraordinary dedication to the Farm for the past 8 years, his work to involve the community in wellbeing gardening projects at the Farm during the summer and his incredible service on the Farm's Youth Committee where he helped shape a better future for all young people involved with the charity.
This same young volunteer went on to work with London Youth on their DARE youth board and had the opportunity to talk with HRH The Earl of Wessex about the impact youth work at the Farm has had on him. See our Youth Programme's Twitter feed for a clip from the interview here.


We may have been in another lockdown, but our young people continued to contribute to their community and look at ways they could improve their futures. We consider ourselves very lucky to work with them all.

Green Mentor

Our Sunday gardening group has been running in the morning and the afternoon to keep groups small and allow volunteers to make the most of being outside. They have been busy mulching parts of the Farm with woodchip to keep the weeds at bay, keep areas safe for walking and make things look smart. They have planted more strawberries in our front fruit beds, and been moving topsoil to the River Garden to improve the soil for planting next year.

To add some seasonal colour to the planters in the River Garden our Sunday gardening group planted out a mix of winter bedding plants - Cyclamens, Primroses and Violas. They also gained an AQA in planting out bedding plants.


The Sunday group now has a small vegetable plot of their own - we planted some January King cabbages and some onion sets. We have covered the bed in netting to protect the vegetables from wild birds, particularly pigeons who love to nibble on brassicas.  

The Monday garden volunteers made a great cobble edge on one of our large fruit beds and have been tidying the Thames Path of leaves and weeds. They also dug and moved lots more topsoil to the River Garden.

We hosted one Good Gym Sunday session at the start of the month, digging nettles out of our donkey field and finishing weeding and mulching our community plot paths which had become overgrown. Always great to have such positive volunteers at the Farm.


This month we have filled 45 ton-bags of well-rotted manure which has been delivered to five community sites, including Global Generation’s Paper Garden, Walworth Garden and Dacre Park Allotments. Our manure provides a fantastic natural fertiliser and mulch for gardens.

We welcomed some new gardening volunteers to the Farm at the beginning of the month, who seem keen to be outside and get involved in gardening tasks around the Farm.

Things have been busy on the community plots as gardeners prepare their beds for the winter with some of our well rotted manure and planting onions, garlic and broad beans. Some plots have been changing hands as people relocate from the area.


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