One of the more recent additions to the PKF Francis Clark portfolio of clients is the wonderful charity Farms for City Children.
Founded by children’s author Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare at Nethercott House in Devon in 1976, Farms for City Children offers urban children from all over the country a unique opportunity to live and work together for a week at a time on a real farm in the heart of the countryside. It is an intense, ‘learning through doing’ experience of a different life – for children who may not know where their food comes from and have limited opportunities to explore the outside world.
Having celebrated its 40th anniversary, the Charity now has three working farms where they welcome around 3,200 children and 400 teachers a year from approximately 90 schools. It is operated by some 65 employees including the Chief Executive’s team based in Exeter, administration staff who are responsible for marketing, book keeping, compliance, strategy and human resources, and fundraisers who look to raise over £1.2 million each year. In addition there are the farm based staff.
The three farms comprise Nethercott House, a traditional mixed dairy, beef and sheep farm at Iddlesleigh in the heart of Devon; Wick Court, a Tudor manor house and livestock farm on the River Severn with a speciality of bee-keeping; and Lower Treginnis, a 700 year old Welsh sheep farm on the Pembrokeshire coast.
Each farm aims to welcome up to 39 children supervised by four of their own teachers and the farm staff for a full week of activities. Typically, they are divided into three groups and given highly structured hands-on tasks to perform ranging from looking after and feeding the animals to packing eggs, and cooking their own food, some for the very first time.
The experience stretches them physically, emotionally and intellectually in ways not possible in the classroom, building their confidence and nurturing a real sense of achievement. No ‘screens’ are allowed and the children find themselves talking to each other and discovering new social skills.
Farms are staffed by a combination of a Farm School Manager with a background in teaching and a Farm Manager with responsibility for the farm work and outdoor environment. There are also cooks, housekeepers and domestic staff who provide a welcoming and caring atmosphere at each centre and farm workers employed to work directly with the children outside.
Income is derived through a combination of Trust and Foundation grants and fees from the participating schools but finding new income streams is a major objective.
Fundraising and Marketing Manager, Margi Jervoise said: “A long term aim would be to acquire a fourth farm but right now the priority is consolidating and growing what we currently operate. We are always looking for new ways to raise funds and we support the main income streams with events, legacies and corporate days out as well as specific campaigns such as ‘Sponsor a Child’ and a Tractor Appeal as well as our online shop.
“We have an impressive list of VIP supporters including our Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, but we need more people to know about the work we do and the positive impact it has on the lives of children. As a result we are aiming to increase our database and extend the drive to attract more volunteers.”
Chief Executive Dr. Tessa Stone said: “Running a charity of this sort is very complex both in terms of operational imperatives such as maintaining listed properties, looking after animals and ensuring we provide an excellent experience for our visiting children, and in the growing responsibility for charities to demonstrate transparency, good governance and best practice.
“We decided that we needed more practical support from our professional advisers over and above regulatory compliance issues so we interviewed several firms of chartered accountants and business advisers. PKF Francis Clark were without question the stand-out candidates.
“They were both professional and personal and provided a sense that their firm was of a size and level of organisation to give you confidence in their knowledge and expertise with people you can trust.
“They demonstrated a clear understanding of what the issues are and provided the focused response that we were looking for. They also impressed by identifying some of the areas that will become increasingly significant for charities going forward.”
Tessa Stone went on to say these challenges included complex VAT issues, restricted items and matching the accounting process with end of year accounts ensuring the correct allocations, as well as dealing with multi-year grants, income from schools and guidance for charitable accounting under SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice).
She added: “Stephanie Henshaw and her team at PKF Francis Clark have provided nothing but well focused advice clearly based on experience and expertise. They provide us with real confidence.”
Stephanie Henshaw said: “This is a superb Charity which is transforming young lives. Some of these children had never seen a night sky and had never seen a farm animal up close, if at all. We are delighted to become part of the team and to do our bit in taking Farms for City Children into an increasingly successful future.”
If you would like to know more about Farms for City Children or would like to make a donation or find out about volunteering, visit www.farmsforcitychildren.org.