Staff at Edinburgh's Gorgie City Farm had no warning of funding problem which led to liquidation

Some workers only found out they had lost their jobs via social media

Monday, 4th November 2019, 6:00 am
Liquidators arrived at the farm on Friday morning and spoke to staff individually to tell them it was closing for good.
Liquidators arrived at the farm on Friday morning and spoke to staff individually to tell them it was closing for good.

STAFF made redundant by the closure of Gorgie City Farm say they had no warning the much-loved attraction was about to fold.

And some of them only learned via social media that liquidators had been called in and they had lost their jobs.

Educational worker Elspeth McKay said: “I got a text from a friend saying ‘Is this true the farm’s closing?’ She said there was something on the Facebook page and I looked and I thought we’d been hacked and it was a hoax.

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Gail Vencker said there was no meeting to inform employees and the board did not speak to staff at all.

“I rang the farm and one of my colleagues was in the office and she told me it wasn’t a hoax, it was true. That was absolutely the first we’d heard about it.

”The farm finances are never secure - we’re always having to apply for funding from different places - but from the staff’s point of view there was no inkling that the finance were in any worse state than usual.”

Gorgie City Farm, which employed 23 staff, welcomed 200,000 visitors a year and was home to more than 100 animals, including sheep, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens, goats, ferrets and an iguana. It also worked with hundreds of volunteers each year, many of whom had additional learning needs.

The liquidators arrived at the farm on Friday morning and spoke individually to employees who were on site to tell them of the closure.

The farm welcomed 200,000 visitors a year - including the Queen in July.

Gail Vencker, volunteering and inclusion manager at the farm, said: “The board didn’t speak to the staff at all. There was no meeting at all about us losing our jobs. Most staff found out through each other or from Facebook. This is not organised, compassionate, or respectful.”

Hannah Ryan, who is behind the GoFundMe page aiming to keep a farm on the site, started work only two weeks ago as marketing assistant and to help with fundraising.

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She believes Mr Herbert was not aware of the situation either. “He would not have hired me if he had known. I’m absolutely heartbroken. It was absolutely fantastic. We’re all so shocked, we just had no idea.”

Three years ago the Evening News spearheded a £100,000 appeal campaign to save the farm when it faced soaring running costs and a slump in external funding. But this time there was no signal of financial problems before Friday.

Jim Dendy, who was the farm manager in charge of livestock, wonders if the closure was really necessary. “We’re not convinced this was the only option - it seems an incredibly drastic option,” he said.

“It’s a bombshell for someone to come in in the late morning and say trading closes at 1pm. We saw our chief executive drive in earlier and drive away again. I spoke to the deputy chair of the board, who said he had left the farm and wouldn’t be coming back but he wouldn’t say any more.

“The liquidator appeared and started telling people they were made redundant and the farm was closing.

“They didn’t do it in any logical order. I’m a senior manager and I was one of the last on the farm to be officially told the place was closing.

“They said a couple of people would be kept on to feed the animals for the next week or two. But they seemed to have forgotten about the 130 or so volunteers who need support all the time. There was no comprehension of what that means, the life-changing impact for a lot of our volunteers.

“We’ve got people of all ages and abilities and for some it’s the centre of their lives - and that’s the one we know about, because Gorgie Farm is open to the public, it’s free entry and there’s a lot of the public come in on a regular basis and who use it as a safe place to be, somewhere they know they can get a chat with a member of staff and feel comfortable and safe. That doesn’t seem to have come into the board’s calculations, certainly not the insolvency company’s.”

“And there a lot of people who have know it since it started who remember certain animals or certain staff members. We have members of the public who came as children and are now grandparents bringing their grandkids, it means so much.”

Mr Dendy has worked at the farm for seven and a half years but his connection goes back to the very start. In 1977 he was one of a group asked to look at what was then derelict council land to assess whether it was feasible to set up a city farm on the site.

He hopes somehow a farm can continue there and offer the same sort of opportunities.

He said: “It’s a rare wee space and it’s virtually unique in what it offers to people- it’s a bit of the country in the city, it’s education, it’s a safe place for a lot of people and the work we have been doing helps so many people.

“I’m really hopeful the publicity around this goes against what the liquidators appear to wish, which is that we just close the gates quietly and go away.”

“We obviously worked for salaries because we’ve got to live, but people put so much of their heart and soul into it because it means so much - the changes in people’s lives, you see smiles on children’s faces, you see so many things that make it worthwhile.

“But we weren’t included, it wasn’t shared with us. I don’t know how long the board knew things were so serious, but we’re not a big business with offices all over the world, we’re 20-odd staff all in one place - we can be communicated with.

“They could have said ‘We’re in difficulties, we need help to try and get through this’. We would have tried to help find a way through it - but we weren’t given that opportunity.”

Council seeking answers on sudden closure

COUNCIL leader Adam McVey says he is trying to establish what went wrong to force the closure of Gorgie City Farm.

He said he was shocked by the news. “I’ve been speaking to council officers and local ward members over the weekend to establish what has happened and why this has occurred so suddenly.

“I’ll have more meetings this week to establish the facts. Gorgie Farm has been a fantastic asset for our community for four decades and it’s important we do everything we can to see what can be done.”

Green councillor Gavin Corbett said: “There is widespread bewilderment about why the farm has closed so suddenly, without warning and anger about how that has left staff and volunteers. I’m convinced that at the very least there is a case for looking at a city farm continuing on site, either as a new organisation or within the wider operations of an existing charity or social business.

However, that depends on understanding the exact circumstances of the farm which has led to the sudden closure.”

Liquidator Shona Campbell of MHA Henderson Loggie said she would be working over the coming weeks to establish events that led to insolvency.

“My immediate priorities are to ensure staff receive all their entitlements and to oversee the welfare of the animals in our care. I will be liaising with the council and other stakeholders going forward to scrutinise all options for the future.”