Furious residents are fighting back at the planned closure of a school farm by holding a town-centre demonstration.
The Save Stratton School Farm campaigners will be in Biggleswade market tomorrow (Saturday, May 11) to call on the upper school’s trustees to give the much-loved farm a stay of execution and join them in exploring all options to keep it running.
The closure of the farm was announced this month after Stratton Education trust said it would need £500,000 investment.
Spokesman and ex-Stratton School student Ben Knight said: “The farm is an invaluable resource with a proud past and an equally proud future ahead of it.
“Thousands of students have passed through the farm since 1955, gaining valuable, practical skills, with many of them going on to be employed in the booming agricultural sector.”
SET announced the farm will close on July 19, citing reasons such as a “significant decline” in the number of pupils taking agricultural courses, increased costs of running the farm, a decline in sales, and the need to use its limited financial resources efficiently “to deliver the intended curriculum”.
Mr Knight said: “As recently as last October, the school assured residents that there was no threat to the farm’s future and rebuffed community efforts to organise fundraising.
“We want to understand what’s changed and what options have been pursued. From grant funding to charitable support to a private sector deal, we believe that there are options for the farm’s future which have not been fully explored.”
The group has listed a set of five key demands, which include an independent, transparent assessment of the farm’s condition and a public meeting. It says the farm has covered its running costs for many years and has recently built two new buildings.
Mr Knight added: “SET claims it needs £500,000 for capital investment. We simply do not believe that figure and an independent assessment would reveal the true cost to be substantially lower.
“The Trust needs to work with us in partnership with the community; not against us.”
According to the campaigners, the number of students studying agriculture at university has risen dramatically. They add the agricultural sector created 25,000 new jobs between 2016 and 2018, rebuffing the trust’s claim interest in the subject is declining.
The campaign has support from Biggleswade South Councillor Hayley Whittaker, Potton Councillor Tracey Wye, and Alistair Burt MP.
Cllr Whittaker said: “The farm is a unique community resource. I call for transparency from the school and ask them to share the work they’ve done exploring different options with the residents of Biggleswade.”
Madeline Russell, chairman of the Stratton Education Trust, said: “I appreciate that many people are upset at the closure of the farm and we are very sad that the decision had to be made. We feel that our FAQ responses on the school website clarify our position further, and they answer many of the questions outlined by The Chronicle. I’m afraid I am unable to say more at this stage for various legal reasons.”
For more details go to the campaign’s page on Facebook @SaveStrattonSchoolFarm.