When I left the City Farm in Leeds in August 1986, I went to see a couple of people who’d helped along the way; one of whom was Sally Bucknall, then with the Countryside Commission. Her support demonstrated by the provision of our first grant. This latter was important as I’d never done any fundraising before and that grant made me realise that I could actually do it. When I asked her why she’d done what she did, her response was that, six years previously, she’d listened to this man explaining what was planned for these empty fields and thought that he was either mad or that he had something and that it was worth a small grant to see which it was.
Well, if we go back to that first visit, it came soon after I took up the job, when I had no idea that the local authority was coming to inspect the project, at the end of the following week, with a view to closing it down. I also had no idea as to whether or not I could do this job. Rather, it was just that the idea of failure never entered my head. So, on that Monday morning we worked as a team and started removing rubbish. We went on to tidy up, clean, repair, paint, polish and whatever else we had to do to get the Council to change its mind; which, impressed with our efforts and cups of tea and biscuits, it did.
Over, the next six years, while running the project, we transformed that vacant site into one of the best examples of its kind in the country. This, on a project on which we were all unemployed on job creation schemes; one that had no permanent building (it operated from two old caravans with iron bedsteads for fencing for its animals), no decent access road, no gas, electricity, toilet (we used a bucket) or water supply. This latter was solved by laying a plank across Meanwood Beck to get to the derelict buildings, that we would later renovate, and connect up to an extremely long hose.
The project is still there today while I’ve gone on to others things. However, I have great memories of those times and the local people who managed it and all the other volunteers who helped out. Importantly, for me personally, it confirmed the view I’ve always had and retain to this day. That is that it is far better to believe in a world that could be than to accept the one that is.