top of page

Volunteer Stories

At the Farm we rely heavily on volunteers averaging around 60 at any one time across our many sites. These volunteers come from many different walks of life come to the Farm for many different reasons. Here are a couple of case studies about some of our volunteers. 

Bailey's Story

Hi my names bailey,

I started the farm nearly a year ago. heeley city farm has helped me in so many different ways  and I’m so thankful to be apart of this amazing organisation.

When I started the farm I was still in school and finding every day school life difficult that’s when school decided to let me do off site learning every Wednesday at the farm when I first started I was super shy and struggled really badly with my mental health, during the time of me being at the farm I’ve gone from knowing nothing about animals to having a wide range of knowledge!

Before I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do after and that’s when the farm especially Rachel helped me make my decision I decided to go to college and study animal care which I’m so so happy I did!

After I left school I asked the farm if I could volunteer and they said yes! So I now volunteer every single Sunday and it’s honestly my favourite day of the week! I’ve met some of my life long friends through this amazing place!

The animals are just fabulous so so many people say how therapeutic the animals are and I agree just the same if Iever have a bad day I know I can come down to the farm and see some of my most favourite animals ever!

The staff,volunteers and so so much more are so so amazing here and will literally go out of there way every single day to make sure we get the most experienced! I’m so lucky to work with such an amazing team!

Thankyou so much for reading!

Bailey (27th November 2018)

James' Story

Hi, my name is James and I am a volunteer at Heeley City Farm.

I am writing today to tell you how outstanding the farm is for the young people. I have been volunteering at heeley city farm for about two years. Along the way I have learnt so much about what animals can and cannot eat, how to care for animals and a lot more.

The animals on the farm are really loyal to me. But it is not just me they are loyal to they are also loyal to all the staff, public, kids and the people with learning disabilities. The animals are really lovable and love big cuddles off all the people who visit. People that visit the farm say the animals are really therapeutic and help them when they are going through hard times.

We ask for your donations because Heeley City Farm is a charitable business and has no direct funding.

Yours faithful

James Volunteer at Heeley City Farm (22nd November 2018)

Gary's Story

Gary came to volunteer at Heeley City Farm through a Job Centre scheme after being unemployed for over 5 years. He had previously worked in security for about 20 years on the Sheffield College campus, building sites and in office blocks. He was laid off due to changes in the rules within the security guard industry regarding training. Gary had left school at 16 with no qualifications so had limited options and had been roofer from the age of 18 until he got into security.

Despite being sent on many courses by the Job Centre including groundsman’s training through Hillsborough College he has struggled to find another job and was beginning to lose hope of ever getting anything.

‘’Before being here at Heeley, I’d started to doubt myself worth’ says Gary ‘’ It got me down, being out of work and just looking at four walls. I’ve got friends and family but they all work so I didn’t see them much either.’’

Then the Job Centre put him on another course and the company running it dealt with charities; Gary was given the choice of working in a charity shop or at the Farm. He’d been on site here many years previously to repair the roof of the bakery on Alexandra Road in Heeley (now the Farm’s South Yorkshire Energy Centre) and knew that the Farm dealt with adults with learning disabilities; he opted to volunteer here for a 6 month placement doing 4 days a week. It was a subject close to his heart as his younger brother has learning disabilities and suffers from epilepsy and severe seizures. 

Before he even had his initial interview with Aly Lalloo the Supported Learning Manager, he felt like it was going to be a good place to volunteer at.

 ‘’Even before the interview the people in the Supported Learning unit were all talking to us and making us feel welcome.’’

Gary began to assist Eddie, Senior Support Worker, in looking after the Farm grounds, doing repairs and helping to clean the animals out, something which was very new to Gary.

‘’Working with animals is something I’ve never done before. If you’d have told me last year that I’d be helping a Golden Guernsey goat give birth to a kid in a field I’d have laughed at you.

I’m really appreciated here which is shown every day by staff and the clients and I don’t class it as work. At the end of the day I go home feeling satisfied – it may have been a hard day’s work but it’s a pleasure working with everyone. I’m here 4 days a week but I sometimes do an extra day, if there’s a Festival or something. The event days are brilliant.’’

Gary was also amazed by all the work the Farm does across the city and Heeley,

‘’You can see what the Farm does for the community every day, there’s always lots of families here; there’s not many places for families that are free. The clients do a lot for the community, there’s not many places that they can go that teach them how to work with animals and all the other jobs they do. It would be a big miss for the area if it wasn’t here and all the clients that attend. I didn’t know half of what Farm did before I came here to volunteer, it’s brilliant.’’

‘’Being unemployed knocked my confidence and I’m enjoying work again. I’m looking into getting a job and training one day a week part time at college. I want to be a support worker now; the job centre is looking for other courses for me to do which will help. I was sent on a 2 week taster course by the job centre to help make me into a support worker. I missed every one of the people at the Farm when I was away though, the staff and the group’’

Eddie has worked with Gary since he began here on the volunteer scheme and has seen Gary progress and become more confident.

‘’Gary is the one out of the entire group of volunteers he initially came with who has stayed.  He’s brilliant with the clients, gentle and they all like him. He’s just a really nice guy. He enjoys it, works hard and likes spending time with our group; they all respect him. Being here has changed his direction, it’s shown him he’s got skills and it’s not too late to change what you want to do or make use of them. If we were able to we would give him a job, Gary would make a good support worker. He’s on the road to a job.’’ 

Although getting a job is his priority, Gary would love to stay on and help the Farm in some way,

‘’I’d do anything to help the Farm, maybe some fundraising. I wish I’d got the money to help it carry all it does on. I want to continue to help at the Farm and would still like to volunteer here on my days off when I’m working. I would love to work here as a member of staff – it would be my dream job!’’

Gary, 56, Supported Learning Team, 1 year 4 months at the Farm (2nd October 2017)



Stephen's Story

Stephen’s adult life has been strongly influenced by his experiences at school. He had struggled with school due to persistent bullying, which was never really addressed, and left with poor qualifications and low self-esteem as a result.

Despite this, on leaving school he went straight into a youth training scheme in computer studies and IT at Tritec, where he studied for 2 years till he gained an NVQ level 1 at the age of 18. After this training, Stephen had a lot of temporary work at places like Castle College and the then Midland Bank, doing data entry and admin work.

Between 1997 – 2008, Stephen worked for the Benefits Agency and the Job Centre. After a few years there, Stephen started to lose confidence in his ability to do his job properly; feelings from his previous experiences at school resurfaced and he became very insular and suspicious of people’s motives. It wasn’t any one particular thing, he was becoming paranoid, had anxiety issues and was finding everything stressful. He became shyer and more withdrawn, wasn’t eating properly, began suffering with depression and really started to struggle with work. He started to feel like he didn’t belong there and never had. After taking time off for this, Stephen tried to go back to work; in the end though, he was dismissed in 2008 because he wasn’t able to do what the job required of him.

He was at a very low point and living on incapacity benefit. Despite this Stephen began to help out at Remploy when he could; it was whilst there, staff suggested he did a 4 week work experience placement at Heeley City Farm and got on so well that he decided to stay.

“The Farm staff were, and are, all really approachable and they have helped me to realise that everyone is of equal worth” says Stephen “everyone at the Farm is valued as much as the next person and volunteers are listened to and included as much as possible. Everyone has got something that they can offer, to help at the Farm”

“Heeley City Farm has also helped me gain new friends and it’s helped me to become more trusting of people and showed me that not everyone out there is fickle, untrustworthy & unreliable. Everyone has helped me to realise my potential, believing in me sometimes much more than I believe in myself. They have given me a nudge into applying for particular jobs that I wouldn’t have considered myself the right person for previously”

Volunteering here has increased Stephen’s confidence; although he has always found interviews stressful and still does, being here helped him to become more job ready and refresh his existing skills. It’s meant he feels more able to sell himself and live up to his very good CV.

Stephen did get a 6 month position with the Community Composting Network (CCN) which was based at the Farm, doing basic admin. They wanted to keep him on but the funding for the project dried up and the organisation sadly had to end. Even though he hasn’t found permanent employment he has had longer periods in work and he credits the Farm for this.

“It does mean a lot to me, being here” he adds thoughtfully. “An awful lot. I’m not sure where I would have been without Heeley City Farm”

“It’s more than just a City Farm, with everything that it does.” says Stephen “It’s a rewarding and valuable organisation for the city; I was, and still am, in awe of and impressed with the scope of what the Farm does, especially with the supported learning unit.”

“If the Farm were to close it would be a tragedy. Service users may find somewhere else to go but closure of the Farm would be utterly devastating for them; I’ve seen how it affects the group if say, a pet tarantula is stolen. The Farm offers genuine and committed support to the community, vulnerable children, support for people and their families living with dementia and adults with learning disabilities. Everyone needs to get involved and support the Farm; the public, the trustees and the local community around the Farm to make sure it continues its good work.”

“Stephen is a fantastic volunteer,” says Aly Lalloo the Supported Learning Manager. “Reception duty is one of the hardest jobs on the Farm as it’s so varied; one phone call might be from a commissioning manager for a big funding bid or contract and the next a member of the public wanting to know how to get to the Farm or rehome a rabbit. Stephen has a great CV and really good telephone and admin skills the only thing holding him back is his lack of self-confidence. It has been so good to see Stephen grow in confidence and I was so pleased for him when he started getting more work albeit temporary contracts. He has especially formed great relationships with the learning disabilities group, he always chats to them and they really enjoy having a laugh with him”

“I personally wish I could do more for the Farm, I still volunteer 5 days a week in between finding temporary or potentially permanent work. Whilst in work, I regularly put money in collection boxes here, when I visit on a day off or when I volunteer on evening events or festivals & fayres at the farm. But, absolutely, I wish I could do more for the farm.”

Stephen, 40, Reception Main Office, 5 years at the Farm (4th October 2017)


Will's Story

Will used to work for the Church of England as a Dean’s Verger, specifically in Sheffield Cathedral for 16 years. He came to Sheffield because of his job, previously working in Derby and in the York Minister.

Being Dean’s Verger is a very demanding job, which saw him working with people from all walks of life, managing church events, managing all aspects of services, from logistical planning and security, to health and safety, and liaising with other church employees. As well as this Will led scout groups in his spare time and was even given a long service award for this; he was also the National Chair for Deans Vergers conferences which catered for 42 cathedral churches in England plus the two royal churches of Westminster Abbey and St Georges Windsor, and was on the Standing Committee of the Church of England Guild of Vergers. It was and still is, pretty impressive stuff.

But Will was a workaholic. When he moved to Sheffield he worked too much and didn’t make or have the time to build up a friend base outside of his church activities.

It culminated in his having a devastating nervous breakdown in 2007. Will handed in his notice  and he hasn’t been back since, he still can’t even look at the Cathedral when passing it, as his experience there left him feeling so utterly destroyed. He was truly at rock bottom.

During a doctor’s appointment, his GP suggested doing something therapeutic and thought that volunteering somewhere may help him. 

Will had been to Heeley City Farm before, knew something of our work and that volunteering here was an option so he came and spoke to Jill Brookes, the Farm Manager at the time.  She suggested working in the Garden Centre and he began to volunteer on Thursdays and Fridays, helping Sharon Claxton, the Garden Centre Supervisor, to mix coir and pot plants on.

Will made more friends at the Farm in the first year here, than he did in 16 years working in Sheffield for the church.

He enjoyed it and the way that the daily tasks at the Farm follow the seasons gave him a sense of calm. Meeting the different people that access the Farm was very beneficial; even though they had different backgrounds, he could empathise with them as there were many who who’d had similar feelings and stories, albeit it in different circumstances. That empathy with people and shared experiences meant he has always felt comfortable with people here.

‘’One of the things that is special about Farm, is that people are accepted for who they are and where they are in their personal development’’ said Will ‘’There is no being ridiculed here. There are no expectations; you are given the space to just be yourself. It doesn’t matter what the offer is from a volunteer, it’s the contribution that’s valued which in turn makes the person feel valued and that they have something to give to the community. The Farm, is a vision of how communities should be, rather than the fast paced version of modern life which doesn’t allow people time to interact with each other and puts people under pressure. People here have time for each other. ‘’

Volunteering here meant that Will felt well enough, after a year, to go back into employment, this time for Museums Sheffield where he still works today. Even setbacks such as having a heart attack a year into his new job, haven’t stopped him and he credits the Farm with that.

‘It helped, and still helps, keeping me sane and my feet on the ground’

A large part in his ease in fitting in and his continuing to volunteer here is Sharon, who has been working at the Farm for over 20 years.

‘’Sharon is wonderful, she’s a unique person and her dedication for the Farm and what she does, she goes far beyond what is expected. And it’s a genuine thing from her that she cares about her volunteers, she’ll ring up to ask after you when you’re off, because she really wants to know you’re ok. It’s not just a sense of duty. Her commitment to the Farm goes far and beyond duty.’’

‘’And the Farm is such a good thing, really important, for Heeley. People think the Farm’s marvellous in what it contributes to the community, and I’m glad to be part of that’’

Sharon is full of praise for Will too, ‘Will fits in really well and always has, volunteering here in the beginning gave him the confidence to go back to work. We’ve become really good friends over the years and I got to know his wife Lynn and we’ve been out together for meals and trips out.’’

Will still comes in to volunteer 1 or 2 days a month even though he has a job and his family, as he wants to contribute when he can for as long as he can; the Farm has given him so much.

‘‘The Farm doesn’t project what it does for the community and individuals enough’’ Will reflects ‘’although this isn’t a criticism. It’s the people who are here that are put first and this means having the time and the resources to shout about what is done here, isn’t a priority.’’

‘’I wish I could help the Farm more, if I could do any one thing it would be to give it enough money to grow and be stable’.

Will, 61, Garden Centre, 10 years at the Farm (31st August 2017)



Anthony's Story

Known to everyone at the Farm as Stuart, this volunteer works with Sharon and Helen in the Garden Centre. Stuart came to us via a Job Centre scheme and liked it so much he stayed after his placement had ended. 

On leaving school at the age of 16, despite having no qualifications, he has had a pretty full employment history. His first job was on a delivery van for Fletchers bakery delivering bread to shops. After 2 years he began working in the Steel Industry as a Hammer Grinder for Stanley Tools and then worked in the cutlery trade on Buffer, Dollier, Double Header and Multi-polisher machines. His last job was as a Shot Blaster in steel works Sanderson-Kay, of Newhall Road and now demolished, making bullet proof steel for the British Army. He was even chosen to be an envoy for Rutlands Cutlery Company and travelled to China to train staff there in using the machinery correctly and to a high standard. After 5 years doing this however, he was made redundant and has been unemployed for 15 years.

‘’I do go for Job Interviews’’ Stuart says ‘’but people don’t want to employ someone who will be retiring in a couple of years. Plus I help to care for my partner’’

Stuart comes for 3 days a week, and has been at the Farm for nearly 3 and a half years now. He was even part of the Garden Centre team that won an award at the Gleadless Valley Community Awards in 2017.

‘’ It’s helped me a lot, got me lots of experience,’’ Stuart says.  ‘’Sharon and Helen the Garden Centre supervisors have helped me no end. I love it here; I feel younger and fitter having helped out here and worked with a lot of nice people both staff and volunteers’’

 ‘’I’ve been helping to sort out the wildlife area at the bottom of the Farm site’’ he says ‘’I’ve taken it on as my project and I’ve been weeding, planting and tidying the area up. It gets targeted by vandals a lot and we’ve had to clear the pond out as all sorts gets chucked in it. We’ve also been painting all the fencing so that it looks good for the next big event at the Farm’’

‘’Mark, my younger brother, used to help in the Garden Centre many years ago so I did know about the Farm already. The Farm does a lot for the special needs folk, it gets them out and teaches them new skills. They’re making bird boxes and garden furniture at the moment some to sell from here’’

 ‘’The local community depends on the Farm for all sorts of things. They come for fresh eggs, vegetables, flowers; I’ve heard people say that the Garden Centre is better than the B & Q down the road because the money goes into helping the local community. And they think it looks beautiful’’ 

 ‘’Stuart is a diamond in disguise – he’ll do anything to help’’ says Sharon Claxton, his supervisor. ‘’He’s got this persona of being a bit of a joker which he is, but he’s got a softer side. As well as being here, he does a lot in his community too, litter picking round flats and helping the older ones out. He’s a right joker, and a good laugh to work with and he cheers everyone up. Our clients here, they think he’s great.’’

As well as helping in the Garden Centre, he also collects donations for the Farm’s events. The last Easter Egg Hunt had over 200 chocolate eggs donated thanks to his efforts!  

‘’If I won the lottery I’d donate a few million to the Farm to keep it going.’’ he says.

Antony, 63, Garden Centre, 3 years 6 months at the Farm (29th September 2017)



Volunteers of the Gardening Groups' Stories

Names have been changed. The gardens mentioned, St Swithun’s Church, Dovercourt GP surgery, Meersbrook Park Walled Garden, Norfolk Park community food growing garden and Lowedges Firestation food growing garden, are all managed by Heeley City Farm in partnership with the host organisations.


Mohamed, S2

Mohamed is an asylum seeker from Iraq who has been living in the UK with his wife and 3 children since 2016. He first joined in gardening at St Swithun’s Church local food growing project in October 2017 when he was visiting the food bank and asked if he could help. He told me he had been a farmer in Iraq and showed me photos of his farm where he had a large amount of land and grew wheat. On joining the project, Mohamed’s English is limited and he uses an online translator on his phone to help talk to me. He is very keen to do more gardening and so I give him directions to the Dovercourt garden and the Meersbrook Park Walled Garden where he also comes to take part in sessions. He also takes part in a visit to Norfolk Park garden with other volunteers from Dover Court.

At first he describes me as his ‘only English friend’ and is keen to practise his English with me. Now he is chatty with everyone who he works with particularly at Meersbrook Park Walled Garden where he regularly attends. Mohamed would like to be employed but, as an asylum seeker, he is not allowed. He says he feels sad about the fact that he can’t work. He describes how it has made him very happy to find the gardening projects.


Amena and Family, S8

Amena and her three young children visited the Lowedges Fire Station garden on a regular basis throughout the 2017 gardening sessions. Amena always liked to pick the chard leaves to take home and cook dolma, a traditional dish from her country Iran.

The children are always happy, relaxed and enthusiastic in the garden. Amena says that on Saturday mornings they always ask if they can go to the garden.


Rosarita, S2

Rosarita is unemployed and lives with her adult son. Her son works and she is on her own a lot. She is separated from her husband. She has physical difficulties with a bad back, and also suffers from depression, anxiety and memory loss. She began volunteering at Dovercourt GP surgery local food growing garden in October 2017. She was referred to the project through a worker at the Manor and Castle Development Trust.

Rosarita often describes herself as ‘shy’ and at first she doesn’t like to join us for a drink and a chat in the surgery at the gardening session. Now she often joins us and has made good friends with the rest of the group.

In November 2017 Rosarita confided in me that she struggles with depression and anxiety and how much gardening helps her to feel better. She says that coming to the Dovercourt garden has helped her to be ‘less scared about going out’.

Despite finding it difficult leave the house, Rosarita comes to the garden nearly every week and has also managed to attend group visits to Norfolk Park garden. She often says that before she sets off for the session, she feels that she can’t make it, but she manages to overcome these feelings, get to Dover Court, and forget about her anxieties while she is gardening.


Heeley City Farm volunteer case studies, March 2018. 

Compiled by Jo Townshed, Heeley City Farm Local Food Grower

bottom of page