Petting farm faced with prospect of closure as Government grants not available
The owner of a community interest farm is “distraught” at the prospect of facing closure due to her business being deemed ineligible for Government funding during the coronavirus.
Cherry Tree Farm, located in Methwold, intended to start specialist support days for children with ADHD, autism and Asperger’s from the beginning of April.
But now owner Tracy Peckham and the 17 volunteers at the farm, are faced with the anguish of seeing the farm close as it is does not meet the criteria for grants.
Mrs Peckham said: “We have not got a rateable building. Unless you pay business rates, you can’t get the grant funding.
“We have slipped through the loophole. The Government do not really do enough for small businesses setting up.
“If we were open, the donations would be keeping us going nicely, but Covid-19 stopped us opening and all the income has completely dried up. We could lose everything.”
She said she has had to sell her house to help cover costs, while her overdraft limit is stretched to its capacity.
Cherry Tree was granted planning permission for its ongoing developments earlier this year, and Mrs Peckham said she has had to extend the overdraft to cover the vet bills this week due to it being lambing season.
West Norfolk councillor for Methwold, Tom Ryves, has been supporting Mrs Peckham and he said there is a “ray of light”.
Mr Ryves said: “The need is to restructure the rules whereby funds are released and this needs the Government to recognise the holes in the net and step up to resolve them.
“It should come as no surprise that in events of this magnitude everyone is learning as they go and I believe there is a will to identify and correct anomalies.
"It is apparent talking to council officers that there is great sympathy for Tracy’s situation. But they cannot override the rules set for them.
"The problem arises in the way that the London civil service has interpreted the will of the Government to give real assistance to hospitality/tourism type businesses."
On the importance of the farm, he added: “It has a long history of supporting our community. In particular it works with troubled youngsters through the medium of animal welfare."
Among those who have been contacted by Mr Ryves are West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long, mayor Geoff Hipperson and cabinet member for business development, Graham Middleton.
South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said: “The Government is working non-stop to make sure the UK is protected both in terms of health and financial well-being.
“I am working closely with Norfolk County Council, the lead authority locally during this pandemic, to ensure the most vulnerable in the constituency are identified and support is given to them.”
A fundraising page has been set up for the farm with a target of £1,000 being set.
This can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/cherry-tree-farm-animal-welfare-fund with nearly £500 being raised at the time of writing.
Cherry Tree farm currently has 93 animals after being initially set up in 2018.
£16m grants released to Breckland businesses
Breckland Council has said it has so far distributed just over £16m in grant funding to local businesses to help them through the coronavirus pandemic, with more being available according to the authority.
The council has written to more than 3,000 local businesses which are eligible for grants worth between £10k and £25k and is now calling for those which have yet to respond to contact the council via email as soon as possible to claim their grant.
Breckland has said businesses need to meet criteria defined by central government to be eligible.
Those which are already registered for Small Business Rate Relief are likely to be eligible to receive a grant of £10k, while businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure industries may be able to access a grant of between £10k and £25k, depending on the rateable value of their property.
Sam Chapman-Allen, Breckland Council’s leader, said: “Throughout this pandemic our focus has been on protecting the welfare of our residents and the buoyancy of our businesses.”
To access the funding, eligible businesses need to complete a short form on Breckland’s website at www.breckland.gov.uk/covid-19-grant.