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Warren’s story – Bentley Urban Farm, Doncaster

Bentley Urban Farm started as an anti-food poverty project where local people could come together to grow and share food. Warren Draper helped set it up and made it flourish:

“In a way, I’m living my values. It’s who I am and what I want to do. I’m an artist and writer, I’ve been involved in ecological and environmental projects for over 30 years.

“The farm focuses on food and ecology, we use a range of agroecological methods such as permaculture. We’re made from waste – all upcycled materials. This helps minimise our overheads, as do the volunteers. 

“The site itself has seen improvements in local bird and wildlife populations. We have a tree nursery where we rescue them and do some guerilla planting in spaces that have lost tree cover – making sure it’s the right tree in the right place. Doncaster has 12% tree cover, which is well below European averages, although we are traditionally a wetland area.”

We started as an anti – food poverty project

“We quickly learned there was more to it. There’s a school nearby, in an affluent area, we found kids were having microwave meals while both parents worked late. We started to look more at relationships with food.

“We offer more than food and ecology. It’s open to community groups, artists, musicians. It’s better because people engage on their own terms. 

“A lot of the things we were talking about in the first place have been proven right by the climate crisis. People want to get back to nature and have autonomy with food. The place speaks for itself, everybody loves it when they come.”

“A lot of people drop in. We’re there to create a space people will engage with in their life, some have mental health problems. 

“We had a guy visiting every day in his dressing gown. He was sofa surfing and wanted to get out of his friends’ homes in the daytime. He just sat there, none of us knew him, he wouldn’t talk at first, but once we got to know him wouldn’t shut up! He’d had a traumatic life. He’s a good bloke, I haven’t seen him for a while.

“There was a time when I had family traumas and it was very hard. For lockdown, I couldn’t have been in a better place, outdoors working here. It’s good for my mental health. This is what I’ve found benefits me, this has helped me, it’s not separate. It’s why I get through the hard stuff.”

We have an open – door policy

We’re still an enigma in Bentley

“We won an international award through the Abundant Earth Foundation – second to a community growing farm in Kenya. No idea how we did that!

“But there are people in Bentley who still don’t know we’re here. We want to be more visible to the community. We’re planning a lot more food events together – meals that are grown here, partly foraged or use surplus food saved from waste. We’d like to encourage more people down. 

“We want them to see the farm, and taste what they grow. We grow our own tea – we call it our BUF blend – it’s a mix of mint, nettle and lemon verbena. We’ve run out at the moment, we’re drying some more. Or you can make it fresh and pick your own.

“When we can get transport, we want to get asylum seekers from the airport hotel to come down more regularly. We had a group of Sudanese men down a few weeks ago who were a joy to work with. 

“The site would now benefit from larger funding to take it to the next level.”

“I work on site alongside other artists like there’s a jewellery maker Emma, who sells from Etsy. Yorkshire Bike Shack started here. We built a custom shack out of the plastic bottoms from old Ford Transit vans. We cut off the wheel arches and used them to make the roof to the shack. 

“Our open door policy led to the development of a festival. Dave Hughes created a network of alternative businesses, artists and therapists called Mother Fhungus. He launched it at the farm and it proved so popular that we now have two a year. The next Mother Fhungus Festival is from June 23rd to 25th. 

“Bentley Urban Farm is an artform itself, on a civic scale.”

I’m a writer, artist and graphic designer

We’re based on a former horticultural college

“It had been abandoned for 5 years. I’d set up an arts and culture magazine called Doncopolitan with my long-term collaborator, Rachel Horne, and when the then leader of Doncaster Council, Jo Miller, subscribed to the magazine, we used it as an opportunity to secure the site for the community. 

“Jennifer Holmes at the council helped us push it through. It was the first council-owned asset to be passed to a community group. We hoped it would be the start of many others but that hasn’t moved forward yet.”

“It’s the only green space in the town centre, it’s interesting because it’s surrounded by concrete. We’re getting to the bottom of who owns it, it’s multi-owned by private investors, property developers. We’re hoping to have the capacity to develop it, we’ve done some clearance, talked to businesses around it, got a nice relationship going, and people are excited by it, we’ve already got offers to volunteer.

“I see myself more a midwife than a nanny. I love that creative start, I’m excited by it and the ecology of small projects emerging.”

We’ve got access to another small site in Doncaster

We could use the new city status as an opportunity

“Doncaster is 60% arable land. We should celebrate what Doncaster is and build on what we have – Thorn and Hatfield Moors, peri-urban spaces, rewilded or turned into food production. 

“With climate crisis, we’ve got to rethink urban spaces. Everything is stuck to a model, and this works to a degree. But on a larger scale – we could rethink what a ‘city’ means while retaining the fact people have great access to the countryside.”

Huge thanks to Warren for sharing his story! All photographs are courtesy of Doncopolitan and Bentley Urban Farm.

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