IslingtonTribune

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What the Prince saw on the farm

25 April, 2019 — By John Gulliver

The Prince and children in scenes from the film

PRINCE Charles may have been stating the obvious, but he was spot-­on when he luridly described how working-class youngsters can turn to “violence and vandalism” if faced with barren street life.

He said that prophetically more than 40 years ago while presenting a TV documentary on Inter-Action and City Farm in Kentish Town.

He clearly had Kentish Town in mind as much as any other area, I suppose.

Violence? The very word conjures up the recent tragic death of 22-year-old Calvin Bungisa in Grafton Road.

I took another look at Prince Charles’ documentary yesterday (Wednesday) as the arguments criss-crossed over the future of City Farm.

Apparently, the farm finds itself about £40,000 short annually, largely, say its trustees, because of staff salaries – hence they want to cut costs by reducing the numbers employed.

When you think of how many children and older teenagers find a purpose in life by looking after its animals you cannot help but think that the “social benefits” of the farm are inestimable.

Yet, neither the government nor the local authority appear to have the will or the inclination to step in and help.

Just think of the billions of pounds thrown away on Brexit – and contrast that with the inability of any public body to close the £40,000 gap for this year’s accounts, and offer to plan for the coming years.

In his visit to Inter-Action and City Farm in 1978 Prince Charles looks surprisingly completely at ease mingling with children at Talacre and the farm. I say “surprisingly” because he is neither distant nor too posh to make contact. He cracks jokes, strokes a rabbit and tells a little child he used to have a “white rabbit called Harvey”, and has a go on a skateboard.

He also has decent conversations with older teenagers about their ambitions and work, and it all seems to be part of another world because meaningful jobs were about in the 1970s, in contrast with today’s wasteland.

Prince Charles in conversation with Ed Berman in 1978

Faced with the poverty of street life in the poorer parts of the borough, the lack of employment opportun­ities, the local authority seems paralysed. Naturally, councillors are concerned, and help is given here and there, but a visionary spirit is absent.

If you think for a moment that of all the facilities available for young people most of them were dreamt up by individuals – Debbi Clark who runs an arts club in Queen’s Crescent teaching local children painting, music, graffiti art – or take Inter-Action in Talacre and the City Farm, they came about through the imagination and will-power of an American Rhodes scholar, Ed Berman, who came to Camden in the mid-60s. First, he created Inter-Action, then City Farm in 1972.

Ed Berman, who now lives on the Isle of Dogs, told me this week the fascinating story of the birth of the farm. It started, often like most good things, by accident.

After he had set up Inter-Action, he found a lot of the staff needed good, secure accom­mod­ation so he persuaded Camden’s housing chief to let the organisation take over 50 “derelict” houses in the Grafton Road area for £1 a week rent.

Ed Berman

It was while he was taking a look at one of the houses that he discovered it had stables which, on investigation, were once kept for the ponies used at the Roundhouse railway terminal in the earlier part of the last century. It also had a large garden. And that became the farm.

Imagination; intellec­tual use of knowledge; a persuasive manner.

It’s no wonder Ed Berman was able to create what has become a national network of Inter-Actions – as well as City Farms or that he is at home with working-class people as well as academics and the political class.

Somehow it seems large institutions, run on a top-down basis, deaden imagination and will­power.

• Watch the film at https://vimeo.com/27787836

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