There was a royal visitor to the borough last week as a duke was shown around a thriving community farm on Horsenden Hill.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent was given a tour of the lively, productive working environment at Horsenden Farm.
He saw the vegetable gardens that have been revived and are tended by Gurkha veterans and families brought together by Neighbourly Care; and by members of Mind Food, which runs gardening courses to help people manage and improve their mental well-being.
The duke was invited by the Friends of Horsenden Hill, a not-for-profit group that protects and promotes the site for the benefit of the community. He was accompanied by Richard Kornicki CBE DL, Representative Deputy Lieutenant for the London Borough of Ealing, and Patron of the Friends of Horsenden Hill.
They were joined by Lynda O’Hare, the chair of the Friends; Ealing Council park ranger Jon Staples, who is heavily involved in the work on the hill and led lots of the efforts to get the farm up-and-running; and Major Chandru Rai of the Gurkha veterans group.
Zain Sayed, a former student of Belvue School, whose students are also regular volunteers at the farm, spoke about the challenges he has faced as a person with learning difficulties. He explained the difficulties in trying to find employment, and how his experience of volunteering at the farm has given him the practical experience, confidence and skills to find work. Zain has been employed for a year-and-a-half now but still finds time to volunteer.
Woodwork and a working horse
The royal party also visited the Woodland Workshop at the farm, where they watched a demonstration of green woodworking using traditional methods such as pole lathing and milling. Thomas Bickerdike, a local carpentry and greenwood working expert, explained how he uses wood from nearby Horsenden Woods to craft furniture and wooden implements as well as gates and fencing. One star of the event was Luna, a working horse who was dragging logs from the woodland for Thomas and park ranger Jon to work with. Jon explained how the horse is used as part of woodland management, and said: “Horse logging is the most environmentally friendly way to harvest timber; we need to thin dense woodland to ensure a healthy woodland habitat, and Luna is a wonderful attraction for local people connecting them with our woodlands and linking up with historic rural skills”
As well as Luna, the party was entertained by the farm’s small herd of pigs, whose attention lasted until they realised there were no snacks to be had, and by two billy goats who dozed through the entire visit.
‘Wellbeing, recovery, education and access to open spaces’
Lynda O’Hare said: “The visit was a tremendous honour for all of us at the farm – the community gardeners, the volunteers, the craftspeople and those who look after the animals – and especially for Jon the ranger who has brought everyone together to rebuild the farm. Many of our activities are aimed at wellbeing, recovery, education and access to open spaces. It’s wonderful to have our work and enthusiasm recognised in this way.”
Photographs by David Harvey and Steve Haskett