by Deborah Talbot
One of the great things about living in London is the crazy obsession with bringing the countryside into the most urban area. When I lived in south London many years ago one of my regular yearly haunts was the Lambeth County Fair, which brought falconry, farm animals, an impressive display of owls, horse displays, folk music and craft stalls alongside reggae, ‘urban music’, a pretty lairy modern fair and a sizable police presence. The juxtaposition of so many widely different cultural ephemera left one feeling slightly dizzy. . . or was that the organic high-alcohol scrumpy?
Brooks Farm (aka the Elf Farm, according to my daughter, after the Ben and Holly episode where the chicken escapes), in Leyton E10, is no less confusing. The entrance to the park in which it is situated is through a secluded gate in a small industrial and high-rise-block part of town. It—and this is a shame—often feels a little bleak to go there. The park is mostly empty and the farm tends to have one or two families visiting at any one time. I have never seen it particularly busy, although it does cater to schools as well. On the other hand, I would say it is one of the best and least-pretentious city farms around. Hackney City Farm, for example, seems to consist mostly of a gourmet café, a shop, and a few huts, which house the animals. Brooks Farm, conversely, has a whole lot of pretty healthy-looking animals, including ponies, llamas, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, a cow, and goats—very, very large and greedy goats—and an oddly curious donkey.
There is also a hut for hire, which is clean, a nice size, and doesn’t cost much. For parties they also do animal petting, and you can pay them £10 to take your child off your hands for half an hour to help with the feeding and farm jobs while you set up for their big moment.
The café, it has to be said, is a little odd. It is made out of what I think are shipping crates (as are the toilets), which would be great if they’d also put a few tables and chairs on the inside, instead of the rows of chiller cabinets they have. The tables and chairs are outside, which contradicts everything we know about British weather, winter or summer. When I found one mum trying to feed her child lunch in the rain by sheltering under the climbing frame in the (by the way, really good) playground next door, one can see the consequences of this decision.
So in summary I would say it’s an amazing but underutilised resource, and it would be a shame to see it fail because it doesn’t get enough visitors. Go there, use it, and pass the word around. We need our inner-city children to see just how big cows are.
The specifics: parking is free around the farm, and I’ve never had trouble getting a space (the address is Skeltons Lane Park, Leyton E17 5BS). It is also a short walk away from some major bus routes, including the 69, 97, and W16, and Leyton Midland Station. Visit the Brooks Farm website for more information.