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Surrey Docks Farm - March 2021

Behind the Gates

With lockdown restrictions continuing to lift, we're pleased to hear everyone is eager to visit the Farm again.
Firstly we have focused on the safe return of all our community projects, including our youth clubs and training projects for adult students with learning disabilities. We're also working on plans for a phased reopening for visitors.
We're creating a one-way route around the fields; installing fencing (to divide a section off for our more vulnerable participants); and recruiting volunteers to help man the entrance and control numbers coming on site. Initially we're aiming to open on weekday afternoons in May, we'll increase this when we have the capacity to safely manage more. We'll announce further details and dates on our website.


The first ever ‘City Farm Day’ was held on 25th March, celebrating fifty years of the city farm movement across the UK and highlighting the benefits city farms bring to local communities.
Our Manager chatted to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London about the valuable role city farms play. You can listen here, just after the news around one hour 34 mins into the programme! 
We also took to social media posting photos and information about our projects, including some fantastic photos of the very early days of Surrey Docks Farm. The Farm was established in 1975 and has been a constant in the local area, during a lot of developments and change, supporting our community and providing a green oasis for over forty years.


Support the Farm

When the first lockdown hit and the Farm closed it's gates in March 2020 we were extremely worried about our survival. We had invested a significant proportion of our reserves to complete our Riverfront Development which meant we had just one months running costs in the bank. Suddenly, instead of launching a new building and regaining the invested funds, we had lost all our bookings and income generating opportunities!

A year on we're delighted to be in a much better position. Thanks to your incredible generosity we've survived and been able to re-build our reserves, so we are in a more stable position. Huge thanks to everyone for their contributions and support.

However we still aren't able to raise enough income while lockdown slowly eases and we continue to rely on support to pay the rent, utility bills, animal feed, site maintenance and to continue running our projects for those most in need. If you'd like to help us you can find out more about donating here.

Farm Shop

Our Farm Shop continues to provide produce four days a week to our local community. Throughout March the farm shop has been stocked with our chicken and duck eggs; farm-reared sausages and meat cuts; plus freshly harvested rocket, chard and parsley. We upload stock around 12pm on Wednesday to Saturday, with collections available the following morning from the Farm gates.

Did you know we sell our farm-made potting compost, well-rotted manure, herbs and vegetable plants grown from seed or cuttings on site? Visit our Gardening Shop to see what's on offer this week, order online and collect from the Farm gates on Sunday morning.


We were pleased to enjoy some sunnier days in March, the animals also seemed to relish the warmer weather and found sunny spots to soak up the sunshine. Bisto our farm cat has a particular talent for cat-napping in the warmest spots!

Our lovely donkeys enjoyed an outing to a local church, to take part in their Palm Sunday event at the end of March. They were very well behaved and the community were thrilled to see them!

Back on site, our wonderful livestock volunteers continue to attend their set shift every day of the week, They support the staff with mucking out, feeding and caring for the animals. This is physical work that is carried out in all weathers and we're hugely grateful to the whole volunteer team for their time and enthusiasm. To help make it worthwhile, goat cuddles at the end of a shift are a must!
Please note, we don’t have volunteer vacancies at present, but do check back on our website in a month or so for more opportunities.
We provided some straw to help local swans who were showing signs of nesting, but didn't have enough natural materials at Greenland Dock. We were sent these photos and are delighted to see the swans making use of the straw and have been told they've since laid eggs. Greenland Dock was the Farm’s original home back in 1975, before we moved slightly further along the Thames path and into our current farm buildings, so it's great to help our local feathered neighbours!

Youth Programmes

This month we worked with our 40 Young Farmers online, delivering a total of 25.5 hours of weekend sessions which gave the young people a chance to connect socially, play collaborative games and share updates with each other. The Young Farmers also worked towards three AQA unit awards to demonstrate their knowledge in these areas: Wildlife Ponds, Bird Identification and Wildlife Gardening. We've received so much positive feedback from our young people and their families about these sessions for providing a routine and valuable chance to get together informally during lockdown. 


We also delivered 30 hours of 1:1 support to 15 children and young people requiring additional help and guidance during lockdown. These Farm sessions involved recording a soundscape of the Farm, watching the frogs in the wildlife pond and spending quality time with our pregnant ewes and nannies. 

All of the raised beds in the youth allotment were replaced with 'no dig' ground beds thanks to the help of two hard-working youth volunteers. Our homemade compost has been used to mulch the beds ahead of the growing season and the pathways have been created using woodchip donated by a local tree surgeon. Young people in 1:1 sessions have planted a loquat tree, onion sets, wildflowers, cut flowers and herbs on their plot, as well as sowing pea seeds directly in the ground and kale, lettuce, asparagus and pak choi in the greenhouse. 


Our Youth Committee has been making progress with their City Leaders social action project. We're looking forward to working with them to increase the youth presence online through social media and our website. The group are also researching who they would like to partner with to invite groups of disadvantaged young people to the Farm for tours and workshops later in the year. 

This month we sadly said goodbye to our Saturday Youth Worker, Sarah, who has moved onto pastures new. We'd like to thank Sarah for working so hard engaging the Young Farmers each week through on site and online sessions. We'll miss her a lot. We would like to extend a warm welcome to Jo who will take over from April. Thanks are owed to the entire youth team for ensuring all of the young people we work with are happy and meaningfully connected to the Farm during these difficult times. We look forward to welcoming the 'bubbles' of Young Farmers back to the Farm in early April. 


Training Projects 

We've continued posting our weekly newsletters and phoning our adult students with learning disabilities while they are shielding at home during the lockdown. The time away from the Farm and the usual routines has been particularly challenging for our participants, so we're very excited to welcome them back in April in line with restrictions lifting!

We were able to welcome our gardening volunteers back this month and we've been so grateful of their help again! The team have done a fantastic job keeping the students' beds weeded and sowing their seeds until they can return on site. They have also prepared the students' seed potatoes, sitting them in the sunlight to 'chit' or sprout - this helps ensure a quicker and larger harvest. Each seed potato will be planted outside when the students return and will produce lots more potatoes which we’ll dig up later in the year.

We've completed lots of maintenance work while the students have been away. Rachel, James and Caty finished building our new fruit cage in the Plot to Shop growing area. The frame will be covered with netting to keep our fruit bushes, strawberries and plum trees safe from raiding squirrels!


The real highlight of the month was getting our fantastic new greenhouse installed and we can’t wait to use this accessible space with our participants. This project has been possible thanks to our funders: Finnis Scott Foundation, Baily Thomas Charitable Fund and Southwark Council. Thanks also to the design and installation team from Dovetail Greenhouses who created the bespoke greenhouse and to John Perkins Projects Ltd who installed the foundations and paths.
Our next job is to build the staging, then we can really get growing!


The end of March saw the lowest tides of the year, revealing many features normally hidden underwater such as this mooring block. This would originally have had a long chain attached to it, to which vessels could moor themselves. The mooring block is in line with the southern edge of the Farm, but very far out into the river, so we don't know if it's related to the site or not. We haven't found out yet what 'No. 54' refers to, or what those other marks mean, but maybe over the next years more of it will be revealed to give further clues. It may simply have been used to moor the cargo barges that were parked in long lines along the river, but it could alternatively have been related to the shipyard or the timber wharf that were formerly on the Farm's site.


March was frog spawning time, and it was a hugely successful season in the newly renovated wildlife pond. All the local frogs from around the Farm and neighbourhood congregated; between 60-100 could be seen on the sunnier days when they all basked around the pond's edges. Thanks to the clear new views through the lattice fence on the river path, all the action could be viewed by visitors and passersby. The frogs have now dispersed but have left behind numerous clumps of spawn, and the eggs are already starting to develop into tadpoles. 

The plants in the Wildlife Pond are also growing fast - the first to flower are the golden yellow Marsh Marigolds. Other spring plants around the Farm include the patches of Lesser Celandine, also attracting pollinating insects. And a charming but easily overlooked wildflower, Common Whitlowgrass, is currently in flower on the riverwall where it has taken root in the gaps between the bricks.


Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been regular visitors to the Farm recently; they have their favourite spots - they'll either be 'drumming' on the tall sycamore in the far corner, or pecking for insects at the top of one of the old birches in the Wildlife Garden.

March also saw the start of butterfly sightings, as they started coming out of hibernation. The first were the large yellow-green Brimstones, seen from mid-March, and in the warm days at the end of the month we found a Peacock and a Comma. 

Find out more about the wildlife that lives and visits the Farm via our website.

Green Mentor

It’s an exciting time of year to be back at the Farm, Spring is finally here!

This month we started up our Sunday Gardening Volunteer sessions again. The sessions are led by Bex, our Green Mentor. The team are responsible for our River Garden development as well as assisting with general gardening tasks around the Farm. They also learn lots of new skills along the way.

In March the group prepared a new large planter next to the Forge at the back of the River Garden and then planted a bare root old fashioned climbing rose, ‘Mortimer Sackler’ which will produce light pink fragrant flowers. The volunteers really enjoyed learning about how to plant a bare root rose and the possibility of hope that it brings after such a tough year. 

The volunteers also pruned our apple and pear trees; and sowed ‘Yellow Pear’ bush tomato seeds and ‘Marketmore’ outdoor cucumber seeds for their vegetable plot. 

Our Monday gardening volunteers have been working their way through some more strenuous gardening tasks. They have replaced a broken raised bed with a new one using reclaimed railway sleepers which will be used by visiting school children and adults with learning disabilities. They gave a Summer Jasmine a new home, replanting it in the large planter at the back on the River Garden next to the rose. It had outgrown its planter and will produce masses of highly scented flowers this coming season. 

Lots of well rotted manure was ferried from the muck heap to the River Garden to improve the quality and increase the depth of the soil. We planted two Mountain Peppers which produce edible leaves and berries, and an Amelanchier lamarckii. We also dug in some wooden stepping stones to make the garden easier to maintain!


All the Sunday and Monday Garden Volunteers have completed AQA certificates of achievement this month in the following three areas 'Pruning an established apple tree', 'Creating a raised bed' and they finishing their 'Basic introduction to horticulture' certificate - well done! 

Finally, a full lorry load of our famous manure was delivered to Walworth Garden and Kipling Estate in Southwark. This time of year our manure is very much in demand! 

Pop-up Cafe

Local business Peartree Kitchens continue to offer a pop-up takeaway service from our Orangery on to the Thames path.

We're delighted by their success and are pleased to let you know the pop-up will be open seven days a week from April onwards!


Did you know part of the Farm is hired out as a working forge?
Owner and experienced blacksmith Kevin Boys is now offering blacksmithing classes.
Find out more in the Forge brochure available to view here

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