Gorgie City Farm founder Bill Brockie recalls early days

ONE of the founding fathers of Gorgie City Farm has recalled its early days as the drive to save it reaches the halfway point.

Thursday, 5th May 2016, 7:57 am
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2016, 9:07 am
Work to build Gorgie City Farm in 1984-5. Picture: Jon Savage
Work to build Gorgie City Farm in 1984-5. Picture: Jon Savage

Canon Bill Brockie, the Episcopalian priest at St Martin’s in Gorgie-Dalry in 1976, was among those who played a key role in establishing the much-loved urban farm almost four decades ago.

One of the highlights of his time as chairman was riding through the city centre in a horse and cart with a volunteer from Skye called Ian MacDonald to collect edible refuse from shops with which to feed the pigs. He also recalls a homeless man running out from under the Gorgie Railway Bridge to declare he was giving up the bottle because he had seen a group of pink rabbits. It later transpired that they were white and had made a break for freedom from the farm.

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The demolition of nearby buildings to create Gorgie City Farm. Picture: Jon Savage

On another occasion a bus driver leant out of the window warning volunteers to keep their dog under control only for them to shout back: “It’s not a dog – it’s a pig and it’s escaped.”

Back in 1977 the land on which the farm lies was derelict and several plans were mooted to build houses there.

But a community group led by the late Bunty Anderson had other ideas and locals agreed they would rather see it as a green space.

And for many city children living in deprived city wards it was one of the only places that they could encounter live animals.

Creating the garden running parallel to Gorgie Road, 1984-85. Picture: Jon Savage

Since it opened as Gorgie City Farm in 1982, tens of thousands of visitors each year have been able to experience farm life at first hand.

The 80-year-old became involved initially because he group wanted to a place to meeting place and then got “pulled in” as chairman.

“It was my job to bang heads together gently,” he recalls. “A group of enthusiasts had heard of the idea of a city farm somewhere and thought ‘Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do with that bit of land?’. They were very keen, they worked hard and they had a vision of a place where all ages are welcome and able to do practical things like looking after animals. What I remember best about the early days is people working together to achieve something and enjoying it at the same time.”

Bill Brockie. Picture: Jon Savage

But not all of the committee’s early ideas met with widespread public approval, including the suggestion that sheep should be allowed to graze in North Merchiston Cemetery on Slateford Road – to keep the grass short.

“The idea was that a gateway could be made into the cemetery so sheep could graze as they as they do in country graveyards,” says Bill. “But that was quashed. People didn’t much like the idea. Had they agreed, it would have looked a lot better.”

The campaign has now raised more than £50,000 in under a week – half the money needed to save the farm. Spiralling running costs and a slump in external funding led to an urgent plea on Saturday for £100,000. The farm has been running for more than 38 years but financial struggles in recent months led to the closure of its cafe in January.

The demolition of nearby buildings to create Gorgie City Farm. Picture: Jon Savage

• To donate text “FARM44 £5” to 70070, visit www.justgiving.com/gorgiecityfarmassociation or send a cheque to Gorgie City Farm, 51 Gorgie Road, EH11 2LA.

Creating the garden running parallel to Gorgie Road, 1984-85. Picture: Jon Savage
Bill Brockie. Picture: Jon Savage