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Photograph: Bridie’s Farm newsletter   

Glastonbury Food and Regenerative Farming Centre, known as Bridie’s Farm, held their first volunteer day on Tuesday 2nd April, and probably by the time you read this there will have been at least one or two more. At the first one there were only half a dozen or so volunteers there, and the work carried out had to be thought up at the last minute because it was still too wet to get out on the land in more than a tentative way; even so it was a real start, if only a small one. A mixture of comfrey roots and redcurrant bushes were planted along the low bank beside the track that leads from the entrance gate to the static caravans.

Then, expecting rain any minute, we gathered in the volunteers’ static for a delicious bowl of soup (personally I had a bowl and a half), followed by home-made cakes. It was a great opportunity to meet each other and the staff members present. Bon was there of course, dashing off to fetch more comfrey from her own garden just before lunch; it all got planted by the time the rain finally did come at about 3 pm. Morgan, the volunteers co-ordinator, served the soup and cakes and handed out forms for volunteers to complete – one of several head-nods towards the officialdom required, since the project is funded by public money. Another is the first line of this article: ‘Glastonbury Food and Regenerative Farming Centre’ is the official name of the project that is receiving funding, and it is also ‘known as’ Bridie’s Farm.

 One by one people were finishing their soup and looking at the forms. “Volunteer application form! What if I don’t get accepted?” – “Everyone is accepted here. We just have to get the paperwork right”.

Bruce Morgan

Photographs: Polly Hall

Marie-Clare’s Risk Assessment was another example, taking up four whole pages of the ‘Volunteer Handbook’, which was the next piece of paperwork to be handed round. It looked like it must have taken weeks to compile, but it was unexpectedly reassuring to know that someone had thought seriously about all those things that could somehow go wrong. It all made proper sense, even if the wording was like an official language all of its own: ‘Fuels should be stored in appropriate containers within a locked fuel store. Appropriate fire extinguishers should be within the vicinity. Refueling to take place outdoors and not in confined areas. Wear suitable gloves if there is a risk of coming into contact with oils.  Use a funnel to limit spillage. Spillages must be cleaned up appropriately… Severity of hazard: Moderate. Likelihood of event: Remote. Adequacy of controls: Good’.

Polly seemed to be there as a volunteer on this particular day, and it was good to know that the Project Administrator was out there getting her hands dirty with the rest of us. When she heard that I was a writer, the subject of her being an award-winning horror story author almost came up; in her biog it is happily coupled with infusing ‘creativity and play’ into her work. And not on site today was Holly, whose presence was represented by a little pile of A7-size booklets (that’s about three inches by four), each containing 16 pages with rather tiny writing – as well as illustrations – all printed on two sides of one A4 piece of paper, ingeniously folded and cut to make a coherent whole. It contains an edited version of the entire Bridie’s Farm vision. The thought was, ‘Like a little seed, ready now to germinate and grow to fill the whole 22-acres’.

Visible in the distance was Wayne, the only man in the team: ‘Groundskeeper’, aka Maintenance Man. He was completing his deer-proof fence and the tall wooden gate for the new tree nursery. “Actually, because the deer can see through the wire mesh they can’t tell how tall the fence is” said someone in the caravan whilst pouring themselves a cup of tea, “so they don’t try to jump over it”. Wayne is basically a carpenter, and it looked like the gateway was his favorite part of the current structure, which had to be built in a hurry because a whole load of saplings had been donated unexpectedly. I sensed that this was the kind of day-to-day challenge that he enjoyed, and I was sure that he’d done a good job.

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Floods on Bridie’s Farm last winter. Photograph: Bridie’s Farm newsletter.

It has been what could be called a difficult winter for Bridie’s Farm, for two reasons in particular: the weather, and bureaucracy. Neither has been an insurmountable problem. The planning application has been the main thing, and that is now complete. It has left them with a mindset that is very aware of official rules and regulations, and which perhaps could reduce the energy available for creativity – but at the same time, having achieved what they needed to achieve in this department, the sense of having taken a huge first step is definitely a positive. They are especially proud of now having their own address instead of being c/o the Red Brick Building: Bridie’s Farm, Porchestal Drove, Glastonbury BA6 9RP. The post code had to be created specially for them; and it came to light that the land has actually been known as Bridie’s Fields for generations.

Now that the planning permission is secured, there are two post-planning conditions still outstanding: a contamination risk assessment, and the drainage strategy. The latter is crucial for the physical development of the farm, and has been informed by the effects of this winter’s extraordinary wet weather. They are right on the flood plain, with the former route of the River Brue forming a rhyne that runs along one edge of the land. When they were first negotiating the purchase, the former owner assured them that it hadn’t been flooded for at least thirty years.  The climate, however, is changing; and for Bridie’s Farm this means a fresh responsibility that they are taking on in consultation with the land itself.

These final two hurdles should have been jumped before the end of May, and then they will be able to start digging foundations for the larger structures, and also creating ponds and a lake. Having mapped the areas where there has been most standing water, their plan is to turn part of the farm back into semi-wild wetland – which surely will attract plenty of wildlife. Areas that are needed for growing will be designed with, as their starting point, the remnants of the ancient water meadows that are still in existence on the land.

Somerset County Council’s ‘Climate Change Framework Document’ predicted mild, wet winters with increased flooding, but extremely hot dry summers; so whether the farm will also need an irrigation plan for the summer months is still something to be seen. In the mean time, dealing with relatively minor problems seems to be getting done with efficiency and good humour – for instance, on the morning of the first volunteer day, the mains water supply to the volunteers’ static caravan sprung a leak and had to be temporarily replaced by an outside tap. None of the volunteers really noticed.

And one great thing about not many people turning up for the first volunteer session was that at the end of the afternoon there was still plenty of cake to finish up.


Volunteering at Bridie’s Farm now takes place every Tuesday, 11 am to 4 pm. Contact