The newly-redeveloped St James' Community Farm has been busy with activity since fully reopening to the public this month.
Having undergone a £50,000 makeover – adding new animal pens, toilets, a kitchen, and community space – the farm is now virtually unrecognisable in a physical sense. But St James’ Community Farm is truly more than the sum of its parts.
While it might be difficult to fully encapsulate the excitement felt in the area following the farm’s reopening, even an outside observer can recognise that St James' Community Farm is a marvel.
Founded in 2015, the St James' Road-based initiative in the heart of the Falls has transformed an abandoned piece of waste ground into a positive space which has steered countless young people away from antisocial behaviour. Just as importantly, the farm has helped foster a new sense of community and pride in the area.
The volunteer-run farm began as a project that brought groups of homeless people together to breathe new life into some disused flowerbeds. After adding some chickens, a goat, and a rake of other animals over the years, the farm is now used by all sections of the community who come to socialise, learn, tend to the animals, or to simply unwind.
The recent redevelopment was funded by Belfast City Council and Groundwork NI following tireless effort from local activists, including Community Engagement Officer, Damian Linsday, aka Limbo.
With more animals than ever before, vegetables, flowers and more to tend to, the farm has never been busier.
“We’ve a great bunch of volunteers here,” Limbo said. “Morning, noon and night they’re working to get it prepared to get it open.”
He added: “We keep the morning time for allocated groups, and then in the afternoon – 12-3pm and 5-7pm, it’s open to the public.
“We close on Monday to do repairs, team meetings, fix things, and get the animals checked out.”
Reflecting on the transformation of the area, Limbo also paid tribute to St James' Swifts Football Club who work alongside the volunteers at the farm.
“The Swifts don’t get enough credit for the work they put in. They’re up to 20 teams now and I work closely with the committee and the young people they have. They come down here and give us a hand when required.”
In the weeks ahead, St James' Community Farm will be preparing for their upcoming summer market which will be open for local people to sell their wares and to enjoy the new surroundings.
The farm is completely free and relies on the support of the community for its upkeep. Visitors with a spare pound or two can grab a tub of animal feed for the goats and sheep, with all proceeds going into the running of the farm.