doc

A group of young volunteers, which has helped out at a city farm for 30 years, will not be allowed to work there after it changed hands, it has emerged.

The ‘Farm Family’, which includes about 30 children and young people with disabilities, or those at risk of getting involved in crime, looked after animals at Brooks Farm in Skeltons Lane Park, Leyton, when it was managed by Waltham Forest council.

In April 2014, youth charity Forest YMCA, based in Forest Road, Walthamstow, took over the running of the award-winning farm on a 25-year lease after securing a £490,000 government grant.

It re-opened to the public on Tuesday following a three-and-a half month refurbishment costing £530,000.     

But members of the Farm Family and its supporters on Saturday gathered at Skelton Lane Park to protest about not being able to continue their volunteer work.  

Farm Family co-ordinator Maxine Francis, 47,  said: "We just want to be part of it but we're being excluded from volunteering and told we can return if we want to pay £2 for a one-hour activity. 

"An activity is not volunteering."

In response to a letter from Ms Francis, Forest YMCA chief executive, Timothy Pain, said: "Our priority is to increase the number of formal organised activities for local children and families at the farm, but the actual farm work itself will be carried out by our young people as part of their support and training programmes rather than by other volunteers as in the past."

A petition calling for Forest YMCA to allow the Farm Family to continue volunteering has attracted 1050 signatures.  

A Forest YMCA spokeswoman said: "The Farm Family’s claim that they have not been allowed to return to Brooks Farm is entirely false.

"We have made it completely clear for over a year that we will be increasing the numbers and types of activities for children, young people and families at the Outdoor Learning Centre.

"Every child and young person who has been involved in the past has always been expressly invited and encouraged to take part in the new programme of events and activities which we are developing."

For more on this story, see this week's Guardian - out Thursday.