Spitalfields City Farm is a 1.8 acre community farm in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets. Sited on a former railway goods’ depot, the farm was started in 1978 in response to local people’s wishes to convert wasteland into allotments. It now has a range of farm animals including goats, sheep, pigs, a donkey, a pony, chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and ferrets, as well as vegetable gardens, wildlife gardens and sheltered areas.
The farm’s main aim is to ‘bring the countryside to the city’ and ‘provide education and environmental opportunities to local communities’. The farm offers National Curriculum-linked activities for primary and secondary school pupils, both at the farm and in the school. At present, though, there is a strong emphasis on work with nursery-aged children, as well as projects with different community groups.
The main focus of the farm’s current educational work is with children under the age of five in connection with local Sure Start initiatives. Spitalfields receives visits from a number of local nurseries and schools, many of which come several times each year. Children’s time at the farm can involve many different types of activities (see below)
Farm Tour Activities
All farm visits start with a Health and Safety talk and question and answer session, followed by activities linked to the foundation stage curriculum such as:
Small animal interaction – learning about feeding the rabbits and guinea pigs and what different animals like to eat
Large animal contact – having a go at milking a goat and talking about the products that come from goats and where milk comes from
Garden activities - looking at herbs and plants from different countries or taking part in story-telling
Reflection games – sharing ideas about favourite animals, most enjoyable activities, new ideas learnt and so on.
In addition, Spitalfields puts on themed events at particular times of the year such as an Apple Day in the autumn or a Sheep and Wool Fair in June. Furthermore, the staff like to keep local schools informed of any developments at the farm such as the birth of new baby animals. There is also the option of city farm staff taking small animals such as chickens and guinea pigs into schools to carry out work with children in class in addition to or instead of a farm visit.
A key motive for Spitalfields is to provide pupils in east London with the opportunity to experience a natural environment. Meabh Ivers, the Education Coordinator, sees great benefit in the direct and sensory nature of such experiences, which are often a far cry from children’s everyday living situations. Beginning to feel comfortable in close proximity to animals and starting to make links between the food that they eat and the animals and plants that they see on the farm are examples of beneficial outcomes.
In addition, the calming effect of hands-on contact with animals can be very important for children with special educational needs. Finally, teachers and other adults can gain from seeing how their pupils respond in a very different learning environment and from observing a potentially different style of teaching.
Spitalfields City Farm
T: 020 7247 8762