The smell of freshly laid bark and the odd whiff of manure makes me forget I’m in the centre of a city. Staff are feeding chickens, cows are grazing in the field, volunteers are planting flowers and goats are eager to impress a fresh face. I’m being given a tour around LOVE Gorgie farm where staff and animals alike are excitedly preparing for April 5, when they can reopen their doors to the public.
Ever since it opened in 1982 as a working farm, Gorgie has offered a slice of countryside to city dwellers. After it went into liquidation in 2019, the city raised £100,000 in an effort to save the much-loved centre. Luckily, after a competitive tender process, the farm came into possession of LOVE Learning Scotland, an education and social care charity.
Opening in February 2020, the farm was rebranded as LOVE Gorgie Farm. The charity had lots of exciting plans to cement the farm’s future at the heart of the community. However, their plans were hampered by the onset of the pandemic which forced them to close just a few weeks after opening.
Just over a year later LOVE Gorgie Farm will be opening its doors again.
The head of LOVE Gorgie Farm, Julie O’Donnell, spoke to Keep Edinburgh Thriving about how the past year has been and what the future may hold as things get back to normal.
“We were absolutely delighted to take over the running of the farm. We reopened on the 29th of February  and a few weeks later we had to close down.
“It scuppered all of our initial big plans. However, we very quickly changed tack and it became about supporting the local community in an immediate response to the pandemic.
“The first thing we did was the food bank. The food bank became a priority and was set up in a matter of days. It’s still going to this date and I’m very proud to say it will never go away as long as it’s needed.”
There are no criteria to receive help from the food bank, you just need to be a local in need of the service.
“Initially we rallied the community and the community made donations. The staff of the wider LOVE organisation made donations. We also applied for funding opportunities that came out in response to the pandemic. There were a lot of funding pots available for various charitable organisations.
“We then started to link with local supermarkets through a scheme called FareShare which basically links up with Tesco, Morrisons and various larger stores that donate on a weekly basis.”
As well as supermarkets, the food bank receives donations from local cafes and restaurants. They have now sent out over 2,000 food packages and plan to provide even more.
“Although it was initially created in response to the pandemic, we are very aware, pandemic aside, there is still a food poverty issue.”
Creating a food bank is only one of the ways the farm has adapted.
“We have a great number of people who sponsor the animals on a monthly basis. Usually, in a Covid-free world, that includes coming along to the farm once a month for a meet and greet with the animals. We obviously couldn't do that at certain points throughout the year so we started to do zoom calls and live video calls with the animals.”
The pandemic has had a huge impact on living beings everywhere and O'Donnell explains that the animals are no exception.
“It’s not just the people missing the animals, it’s the animals missing the people. The animals on site desperately missed having that interaction with the public.
“We had to reduce the number of volunteers we could have on-site because of all of the restrictions but we kept our core team. A lot of the time it’s just interacting with the animals because they need that stimulus.”
Despite the challenges, there have been some upsides to the last year which O'Donnell has tried to focus on.
“I’m always for looking at the positive. Although, it’s been very difficult in the recent months we've been able to do some projects that we wouldn't have been able to do as quickly with members of the public on-site.”
A lot of the farm has been given a fresh lick of paint and upgraded, ready to welcome visitors back. Having people back on the farm is what O'Donnell is looking forward to most as restrictions ease.
“I know it sounds really silly but when you are on the farm just now and you are walking from one end to the other, you're so aware of the fact there are no people. To have people back and hear kids playing in the park or adults wandering around, just to have that sense of people back on site.”
As we go into the summer months and the restrictions are set to ease, the farm is hoping to resume its cuddle corners, having birthday parties and opening up all its different uses.
“There's a lot of corporate companies who like to use the farm as away days or volunteering days for their staff. The alpaca walks will be back with a vengeance – there's a waiting list for that.”
The farm offers a long list of other programmes too, from mental health support groups to Earth School.
“We do a lot of work with our Earth School, educating as many people as possible around sustainability – from farm to fork – and also growing your own vegetables. How to reduce carbon footprint – all these kind of things.”
As much as the pandemic has kept people apart it has also brought communities together. This was especially the case for LOVE Gorgie farm, O'Donnell said.
“I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us. The support from the community and wider has been phenomenal.”
However, she stressed that as life goes back to normal, they would continue to need that support.
“We are a charity. We don't have an entrance fee. We rely solely on donations from people when they do come to visit. Once we’re open again absolutely do come to see us – see the animals and get involved but we do need support. Hopefully, it will just be in the form of having people on site. “
The farm has been opening and closing throughout the year as restrictions permitted but hopefully this time they will be opening for good.
O’Donnell believes the farm will be a welcome breath of fresh air to the community after a tough couple of months.
“I think the correlation between being outdoors and having positive mental health is evident for everybody. Even the sight of an alpaca is enough to bring a smile to faces. I think having people back on-site and allowing everybody to be getting back outdoors again, will have a massive, massive impact on improving mental health for everybody.”
LOVE Gorgie farm is an escape from the city life we all have been caged into during the past year. After spending some time on the farm and interacting with animals, I’m grateful to have that right on my doorstep.