Ouseburn Farm Charity Ltd
Interview: Hugh Stolliday
Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne
About Ouseburn Farm Charity
This is a place for growing. Plants, fruit and veg, animals, but most of all, people. We cultivate joy here. And learning. We nurture self-confidence and a sense of belonging. You’ll feel it as soon as you walk through our door. Lives are being enriched. Needs are being nourished. It couldn’t happen without our volunteers. Or your donations. We’re a charity. Run for people, not for profits. A community-spirited place where everyone is welcome. And valued. This is a happy place. A wholesome place. A human place.
How has your business/organisation been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown?
The main impact has been having to shut the farm for nearly 4 months. This has meant no visitors, no trainees, no volunteers on site – all of which has led to a hugely reduced income. For a venue like ours, we have high fixed overheads, like looking after the animals, and we’ve had to retain a small team not on furlough to keep things ticking over. We re-opened on the 4th July, but with much reduced footfall and thus much reduced earning potential. Our building remains closed, because it’s tricky to manage social distancing, but our outside spaces are open. As a result, we are, to be frank, in a fight for survival. Despite getting a business rates grant and other support our projected deficit at the end of this financial year is unsustainable and we are already in the process of reducing costs. On the brighter side, we have been able to adopt some new practices. As part of Tyne Housing group, we have been providing meals to vulnerable residents of Byker Bridge hostel, and other individuals with no recourse to public funds who have been placed in hotels by Newcastle City Council. So far we have delivered well over 5000 meals.
What have been the biggest challenges for you during the lockdown whether logistical, financial, etc.?
The biggest challenges have been financial. But the pressure and stress for staff, both furloughed and retained, is enormous. Uncertainty is very hard to deal with, and the way that announcements have been made by the government has made it hard to plan. We are constantly reviewing scenarios as the lockdown is gradually unwound, but we also have to make plans for a potential second spike or local lockdown.
What are the biggest challenges coming out of the lockdown?
As above – the biggest challenge is uncertainty about what we be allowed to do, and when. For example, we have a training programme for adults with learning disabilities. That should recommence in September, but we don’t have any clear guidance about how it might work. We are not a straightforward venue – we’re part visitor attraction, part educational establishment, part farm – so there is lots of different guidance which applies to us.
We are very lucky to have a parent organisation, Tyne Housing Group, who have provided a huge amount of support in navigating the job retention scheme which has been invaluable for a small charity.
Have you had to start selling in a different way than usual for example a bar or restaurant selling beer or food online?
See above – we repurposed our kitchen to provide meals for vulnerable people. We’ve also been forced to introduce a booking fee for the first time ever, as we have to have bookable slots to control numbers. Fortunately, our visitors have been very understanding but it’s not something we wanted to do.
If applicable how important has any funding (arts, government, etc.) been to keep going and was it hard to get hold of?
Some grants have been quite easy to access – the business rates relief, and associated grant, grants from Crisis and Street Zero for the food project. Others have been more tricky and oversubscribed.
Have you done/are doing any crowdfunding for your business or organisation or selling gift vouchers, special products, etc.?
We have an ongoing call for donations and we are particularly targeting regular giving and animal sponsorships rather than one off donations.
Please add a link to crowdfunding page if applicable.
How much has support from the community been important such as people buying local, supporting crowdfunders, etc.?
We are lucky that we have a tremendous amount of goodwill from local residents, local businesses and the city more widely. We’re part of Newcastle’s “tapestry” and people want us to survive and thrive. So as well as donations, including a £5000 anonymous donation, we’ve had lots of offers of help, volunteering and so on. We’re extremely lucky to have that support.
Have you or are you having to adapt to new ways of working such as moving your business online or doing classes, events or seminars by Zoom or similar?
We’ve moved our trainee programme online, with course materials, projects and resources available remotely. We’ve also invested in our social media offering to keep in touch with our friends and supporters. This has been really worthwhile.
If you are using a new selling platform or platforms for products, bookings, vouchers, etc. please specify
What are the digital tools that you have you been using or are intending to use?
Instagram, Facebook Live
Have you added new products related to Covid-19 such as masks, etc.?
No but we are looking at this.