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Horton Community Farm permaculture project was my destination of exploration and edification this past Sunday, August 28th. Join me for a wander through the farm where a permaculture teacher you may have heard of, Geoff and his wife Nadia Lawton join the story.

a welcoming sight

Bring out the bunting and I’ll appear

After a night of thunderstorms, I left the nitrogen rich soils of Richmondshire and headed to the City Bradford to pay a visit to Horton Community Farm's open day.  Protected by my magical waistcoat the thought of heading into a city calmed my already hectic mind. Upon arrival at the farm, I was welcomed by purple and white bunting. A sign that I’m in the exact place I need to be.

a hidden world in the middle of a city

Moist holding its form

The more permaculture projects I visit it becomes noticeable the importance of cake for holding visitors in a designated area of a site. For larger sites, this seems to be an essential permaculture tool. A tool that I feel will soon be included in the people care module of the permaculture design certificate.

At this point, it would be unfair not to mention how good the carrot cake was. A cake with a moist consistency that is able to hold its form after been cut takes a certain skill. With a sweetness content not so over powering that your teeth dream about leaving the comfort of your gums, the cake left me feeling very happy and content . The conclusion is that the people of Horton Community Farm are extremely skilled in cake making. This fact was later confirmed with the equally good tasting pudding after the meal provided later in the evening.

rain water harvesting from the poly-tunnels
composting area

Horton Community Farm

My prep work for the day was googling the postcode of Horton Community Farm. I have discovered it’s quite easy to spot the organiser of such events upon arrival. You find they are the person who looks like they are having a thousand thoughts all at once whilst pointing in a different direction to a person far off in the distance and at the same time holding a conversation with somebody else who is oblivious to how busy the person they are talking currently is.  Charlie Gray has been part of the Horton Community Farm since its conception several years ago when a small group of people acted upon their ideas. From my observations at this point, I will use the words “Rollercoaster ride” to best describe the story the site was telling me. Charlie was now going to be our tour guide for the next hour.

inside the poly-tunnel, an explanation is taking place on what and how they grow on the farm.
A little-known fact about Horton Community Farm; in this photo we see the entrance to an underground government facility 1.3 miles underground, measuring a total size of 3.4 square miles wide. This facility was first built at the height of the cold war to withstand a nuclear attack. In recent years an investment of 1.6 billion pounds has been spent to connect this facility to a country-wide network in preparation for an EMP attack or solar flare. The result of such a disaster would bring the country to a standstill in an instant. Something our current economy would never recover from . At this Bradford facility, the investment has gone into creating a central location for a vast hydroponics growing operation to feed an already selected group of people. The operation is powered by geothermal energy harvested from deep in the earth’s crust. This is 1 of only 26 other similar facilities around the world. Due to its top secret status, this entrance is known to the people of Horton community farm as “the Toilet”.

A story to tell

Horton Community Farm really does have a very powerful story to tell. Bradford is officially recognized as a city of sanctuary, welcoming and including newcomers from all corners of the world. Driving through the back streets around the farm you get a real feel of the challenges facing this community. It came as quite a wake-up call to me how real poverty is just a short car journey down the road from the small market town of Richmond, North Yorkshire where I have grown up and lived most of my life. It was humbling to listen to Charlie speak about the projects the farm is involved with. The farm has and still is helping lots of different people including asylum seekers and refugees. One very inspiring project is horticultural therapy, bringing together in the sanctuary of the farm people in need of support and assisting them with mental, social, emotional, physical and spiritual health.

To step away from the group and walk around the farm listening to the stories that arrived with the people that the farm has helped, stories of persecution, violence, fear, death and suffering. Through the help of Horton Community Farm, these stories have now been filled with hope, with acceptance, stories full of laughter and joy. This puts a different angle on the importance of eating cake and drinking tea, the sharing of food is the start of a community.

the therapy garden
inside the therapy garden


the site was very busy with bumblebees...
...as well at lots of honey bees feeding on all the flowers.

As we continued our tour around the farm I had to stop myself from reaching into my bag for the camera when I spotted several speckled wood butterflies just over Charlie's shoulder. I could spend day’s photographing all the different types of insects I spotted when we were walking around the farm. 

a forest garden, not part of the farm but very inspiring what's growing right next to the farm
the farms start of their own forest garden.


melted plastic on a poly-tunnel, the result of arson.
a door that had been broken into

Amongst all this biodiversity as a reminder that you are not in the open countryside, vandalism is a major problem on the farm. Polly-tunnels have been set on fire, the plastic ripped open and buildings have been broken into. A harsh reflection of a minority who do not understand what is taking place on the farm.


Education is another key area of focus for Horton community farm, with outdoor classrooms and a fire pit used for forest school and with a growing homeschooling community regularly using the farm for lessons, the seeds of hope are been sown. Nadia Lawton is doing some very import work around the world getting gardens into schools for them to be used as outdoor classrooms, teaching children the importance of living sustainably. To see both Nadia and her husband Geoff Lawton visiting Horton community farm with their daughter was very inspiring not because Geoff Lawton is this one of the most well-known permaculture people in the world but because Geoff and Nadia could find the time to visit the farm and to talk with this community.

the outdoor classroom with a very cool firepit
children's activities, sowing seeds


Next, most people who came to visit the farm then headed down the road to the local community centre where we were joined by a few more people who came along to hear both Geoff and Nadia give talks and answer questions. 

Whilst all the children played outside together, Geoff gave a talk to our small group who thanks to Horton Community Farm by putting this event on, new friendships had been formed and the setting was very intimate.  If you're reading this and are unsure who Geoff Lawton is, google his name and you will understand to have somebody of his standing in the permaculture world giving a talk to a small group of people in a community centre in Bradford is something very special that we will all hold very close to our hearts. Geoff is very much one of the people and not somebody who has become lost in his own importance, his passion for permaculture showed during his talk. Geoff is a true leader and I have every respect for him. All that said, sorry Geoff, Nadia’s talk left more of an impression on me. For those who do not know, Geoff is all over the permaculture world both in person and on the internet, teaching permaculture and talking about different permaculture projects. This means I'm very familiar with his work so it was a real honour to get to hear his wife Nadia share her own story and to inspire everybody in the room with her ongoing permaculture work with children and schools.

After the talks, we all joined together for a communal meal to share our stories both of the day and of our own lives. The food was all prepared with love beforehand by Charlie and her volunteers and seemed to be enjoyed by everybody there. A shared meal was a perfect way to draw to a close a very powerful and inspiring day.  

the beauty of nature

Closing thoughts

There are day's when having to take a long drive home come as an unwanted gift, driving is never on the top of my list of things to do but sometimes an hour or so in the car driving gives you time to reflect upon the day's events. Horton Community Farm has so much potential for making a positive difference for those people in and around Bradford who want to improve their lives. I've added links to Horton Community Farm below, please don't just listen to my words, go and learn more about what they are doing. They are needing our support to keep this permaculture project moving forward. If Nadia and Geoff Lawton can find the time to learn more about them so can you.

Life is full of learning opportunities,

Stephen Andrews


Recommendations, links and resources

Horton Community Farm website http://www.hcf.org.uk/

Horton Community Farm Facebook

For more information on children's permaculture education, both Geoff and Nadia recommend  Matt Powers work http://www.thepermaculturestudent.com/

information on our door classrooms Nadia recommends the book Outdoor Classrooms: A Handbook for School Gardens By Carolyn Nuttal, Janet Millington

Geoff Lawton's teaching website http://www.geofflawtononline.com/

Permaculture Research Institute http://permaculturenews.org/

for more information on permaculture in the UK visit http://www.permaculture.org.uk/

For more of my photography visit www.instagram.com/thepollengardens 

Come and join Richmond and Dales Permaculture Network Facebook group


One Response

  1. Charlie Gray
    | Reply

    Hi Stephen, Many thanks for joining us on the day. What a lovely write up. Thanks for taking the time to visit us at the Farm and to listen to the amazing Geoff Lawton and Nadia Lawton talk about their experiences. Thanks for sharing your photographs and insights so quickly. It’s a lovely website you’re creating. Charlie (Horton Community Farm Director, Community and Training Coordinator). ps my own new website is under development where I will share my diploma and other work!

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