‘There’s a possibility that this farm cannot be managed’
Plus, do you need a last minute Christmas gift?
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
There was a time that the most dramatic thing that happened at Heeley City Farm was the arrival of a new rare breed. Well, no more. Last week, farm bosses shocked the city when they announced plans to make almost 20 staff redundant, amid a financial crisis which they say threatens the very future of the charity. However, at the same time there have also been claims of a bitter power struggle and infighting at the much-loved 41-year-old organisation. Today, we ask what’s really going on down at Heeley City Farm?
As well as that we also have a last minute gift idea, some of the first reviews of Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the Crucible theatre, and Christmas with a difference at the Dorothy Pax.
So close: The Tribune is now on 993 members and we’d love to get to 1,000 before Christmas if we can. If you’ve been enjoying our free content, then please give us a try as a paying member, even if it’s just for a month. If you’re already a member, please consider buying a Tribune subscription as a gift. It’s been a long, hard year and to get to 1,000 members would be the best Christmas present we could get!
Catch up and coming up
For our musical weekend read I went in search of one of our city’s longest-standing and best-loved Christmas traditions — the Sheffield Carols. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent two great newsletters out to our 993 paying members. The first was all about city photographer Andy Brown who picked out 12 of his favourite shots of the city. And the second was a piece by our regular contributor David Bocking about Sheffield’s atrocious road safety record — particularly for children. An extract from that second piece is below.
Perhaps it’s an obvious point but it bears repeating: where we live or how much we earn shouldn’t dictate how safe our children are. I remember my own walks to school vividly: my hand in my mother’s, the cold reddening my cheeks, telling her about everything I was excited about in the school day to come. This part of the day is now lost for many who live in vehicle-heavy areas, as parents who want to walk to school with their kids find it so stressful or dangerous that they end up saying they have to drive instead.
This week, because it’s the run up to Christmas, we’ll just be sending one newsletter and then a weekend read as normal on Saturday. If you want to help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on serving readers rather than shareholders, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay for a year up front.
Editor’s note: If you’re anything like me, Christmas gift buying will be left to the very last moment. This year, rather than a boring scarf or pair of socks, why not give the gift of good journalism with a subscription to the Tribune. As well as giving your loved one four editions of The Tribune every week, you’ll also be helping to secure the future of good journalism in Sheffield for years to come and supporting a business entirely based in the North. Thank you.
The big picture: Tonight the streets are ours 🎭
Social media has been awash with photographs of the brilliant set created at The Crucible for Park Hill musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge. The set includes a replica flat, a remarkably lifelike section of the building and, of course, the “I Love You Will U Marry Me” graffiti. It runs until 21 January. To get tickets, click here.
This week’s weather 🌦
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say this week will see a more familiar pattern of west to southwest winds, milder temperatures and unsettled, low pressure driven weather.
Monday ☂ Often cloudy, very mild and windy with occasional outbreaks of showery rain. Highs of 13°C which will feel positively balmy!
Tuesday ⛅ A brighter day in prospect with only isolated showers and good spells of sunshine. Lighter winds but cooler with highs of 8°C.
Wednesday 🌦 An increased chance of a shower as low pressure nears. Windier than Tuesday with highs of 9°C.
Thursday 🌧 Low pressure likely drives an occlusion north and east with rain increasingly likely. Highs of 9°C.
Friday 🌧 A continuation of the unsettled and wet weather with further cloud and spells of rain expected. Highs of 8°C.
Outlook: Mild to start the festive weekend but colder air will be trying to plunge southwards. Question marks on how far it gets. Merry Christmas from Steel City Skies!
The big story: ‘There’s a possibility that this farm cannot be managed’ 🚜
Top line: One of Sheffield's most beloved charities is threatening to tear itself apart over competing visions of how it should be run. Heeley City Farm last week announced a plan to axe staff members in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. But is there more going on?
Rescue plan: Last Monday, bosses at the farm announced there was a £100,000 black hole in the charity’s finances, and that 17 of the farm’s 47 staff would need to be made redundant. Roles to go include staff in the farm’s cafe, garden centre, growing operations and back office. The cafe will also be closing for a time in January but is likely to reopen under new management.
Turmoil at the top: In May, Stuart Gillis was appointed as chief executive, taking over from Sue Pearson, who had run the farm for the past four years. She took over at a time when the charity’s accounts were in dire straits, but when Gillis succeeded her earlier this year, the organisation’s finances were said to have been the best they had been for five years.
In late October, Gillis was put on gardening leave and staff were told he would be leaving the organisation, only for him to be mysteriously reinstated a few days later.
The chair of trustees Carl Lee also tended his resignation two weeks ago. A new chair, Dave Clarson, formerly of the Manor & Castle Development Trust, has been appointed.
What’s going on? It’s difficult to know for sure. Interviewed in The Star, Gillis claimed his aborted sacking was “linked to ideas about running the farm as a co-operative”. Another bone of contention is believed to be departmental budgets, which have previously been managed autonomously but which Gillis now wants greater control over. At a public meeting at Heeley Parish Church on Thursday night, Now Then editor Sam Walby tweeted that Gillis “reacted angrily” to questioning from the floor about internal disagreements, management style and leadership ethos, saying: “There’s a possibility that this farm can not be managed.”
History: Heeley City Farm was set up by John LeCorney in 1981, who last year said when he started it he had “a pig, £25 in the bank and a shed”. It now has a budget of around £1m a year.
Sheffield City Council had originally earmarked the site for the Heeley bypass road in 1963, but the controversial plan was later shelved after a public campaign.
Over the last 41 years, the farm that was built in its place has grown into a charity which provides employment, education and training across South Yorkshire.
Bottom line: In many ways it’s a cliched story: a charity organisation is created with a strong sense of social purpose and keeps itself afloat against the odds through sheer force of will. However, as the farm has grown, so has pressure to change the way it operates. For Gillis, Heeley City Farm now needs to be run more like a business, so it can earn more money to “do more good”. But others worry that if its ethos becomes too hard-headed it will lose what made it special in the first place. It’s possible there may be a middle ground, but that things have deteriorated this far suggests it might be hard to find.
Home of the week 🏡
This two-bedroom duplex Kelham Island apartment comes with a wide range of eco-features and features a spacious private south west-facing terrace. It is on the market for £265,000.
Tribune Tips: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email email@example.com. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.
Our media picks 🎧
‘We didn’t vote for this’ 🗳 The Observer reports on the rise of the Reform UK party in places including Goldthorpe near Barnsley. A local Conservative councillor has just defected to the populist party, citing a failure to properly deliver Brexit and concerns over immigration. Lynne Dunning has lived in the former mining town for 47 years. “People feel abandoned by both parties,” she says. “And I voted for Brexit, but what we’ve got isn’t what people voted for.”
A magnificent musical celebration of Sheffield 🎭 The reviews have started coming in for Park Hill musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge’s return to the Crucible. This Times’ review says Chris Bush and Richard Hawley’s collaboration is a “moving and resonant piece of popular entertainment crafted and delivered by people working at the top of their game”. And another five star review in What’s On Stage calls it “the most exciting new British musical in years”.
On Regret 📻 In this episode of BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought programme, acclaimed Sheffield author Rachel Genn describes her lifelong fascination with regret. Rachel tells stories of regret, beginning in her earliest childhood. “An early adopter of regret,” she says, “I was displaying the prodigy’s irritating flair for it.” To read the brilliant piece Rachel wrote for us last year about her time working at a Castle Market record store in the 1980s, click here.
Golden gloves ⚽
Congratulations to Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez, who saved two penalties in the shoot out to help his team win the World Cup against France last night. The 30-year-old, who also won the Golden Glove award for the tournament’s best goalkeeper, played for Sheffield Wednesday on loan back in the 2013/14 season, appearing 15 times for the Owls and keeping two clean sheets.
He also had a loan spell at Rotherham before becoming number one at Aston Villa. “Emi Martinez, Made at Wednesday”, wrote Tom Doncaster on Twitter, his tongue presumably firmly in his cheek. In the interests of Sheffield footballing balance, United midfielder Iliman Ndiaye also had a great tournament for Senegal before his team went out against England in the second round.
Things to do 📆
Drag 💋 Christmas is obviously the time of year for drag shows in Sheffield. On Tuesday, 20 December at the Drama Studio (8pm-10pm), Cracked Nuts: Camper Than Christmas is Glitterbomb Dancers’ remake of family classic The Nutcracker — with a drag comedy twist. Tickets are priced from £6-£13. And on Wednesday, 21 December, Christmas drag extravaganza Shantay You Sleigh comes to Network on Matilda Street. Doors open at 6pm and tickets are £20.
Games 🕹️ This December, the National Videogame Museum on Angel Street has a new exhibition on all about one of the most recognisable video games in history: Space Invaders. Visitors can experience the original 1978 classic alongside 13 other versions of the game including sequels, spin-offs and clones. The museum also currently has a separate exhibition on about legendary Nintendo console engineer Masayuki Uemara, who sadly died last year.
Pub 🍻 The Dorothy Pax bar at Victoria Quays are hosting a Christmas event with a difference this Thursday, 22 December. At 6pm, Sheffield Arts Lab will perform a mummers' play, a folk tradition which dates back to the middle ages. Generally performed in pubs, a troupe of actors engage in combat, with the loser being revived by a doctor character. This will be followed at 7pm by an informal sing-along to get everyone in the Christmas spirit.