Support floods in for farm couple who 'go above and beyond to help people'
- Credit: Tina Byford
Support has been flooding in for a farm that is facing enforcement action over planning breaches.
Field of Dreams in Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, is run by Mark Byford and Sue Smith, who say the enterprise could be forced to close over a Planning Inspectorate ruling to make some changes to the site.
Mid Suffolk District Council will conduct a further site visit later this month to see what progress has been made with complying with the enforcement notices.
Ms Smith said they had made some of the changes, which include removing the portable building and taking the beds out of the caravan on site.
The old entrance has been blocked up and a hedgerow has been installed, while a contractor has been arranged to resurface the entrance.
However, sticking points include polytunnels, such as the one that houses the farm shop, and containers.
Mr Byford and Ms Smith said support for their campaign to 'save the farm' had been "outstanding", with nearly 3,000 signatures from regular farm users as of last week.
Many supporters of the farm have also contacted this newspaper to have their comments included. Here are some of them:
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Ray Stevenson, a co-founder of Field of Dreams, is an ex-solider suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and said his time at the farm helped him with his mental illness.
He added: "After three years of very hard graft and fundraising as well as having a full-time job supporting my partner with a new born, me and my partner believe we took the farm as far as we could.
"Something like the farm consumes your life, but was worth every minute of the time we gave. We still support Mark and Sue and enjoy visits with our now nearly six-year-old son, who enjoys getting up close the the animals, especially the goats."
Amy Leonard, 23, said: "I have taken my son to the Field of Dreams farm multiple times on open days. My son always has an absolutely amazing time.
"There are also many activities they do, for example I went to an Easter egg hunt which was very well thought out and fun.
"I have also done some volunteering, including cleaning out areas, feeding the animals and assorted art projects. The staff are friendly and helpful and always have a smile on their face."
Marc Bartram, who works as a support worker for people with challenging behaviour, said with cuts in funding there are fewer places for his client group.
"It is refreshing that there is a facility that is prepared to accept individuals with challenging behaviour and offer the opportunity to work in the community alongside supportive staff who are non-judgmental," he said.
"Personally, I would like to see Field of Dreams grow and be able to offer more work-based experience for those less able."
Wayne Skill, a prison officer for Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service at Highpoint, spoke of the kindness of Mr Byford and Ms Smith when they gave him a delivery driving job when he was unemployed last year when the first lockdown started.
He said: "I was more than happy taking great food boxes out to the old and, more importantly, the isolated.
"I progressed and the work load intensified. I ended up being employed on a small but adequate wage, working from 8-13 hours to get all the food delivered.
"I suppose the message I'm trying to get across is that they both care for the community that much that we, as a small team, worked long hours to help all. All we wanted to do was to ensure everyone who needed got help.
"I no longer work for Mark and Sue, but I would gladly stand on a picket line and fight for the great work that they do to help the local community, giving all their time, but remaining happy people. Please help them continue this great work from their little farm set up."
Theresa Lawson said Mr Byford and Ms Smith "go above and beyond to help people".
"They have helped so many people over the years, including myself (I have a mental health condition)," she said. "I fully support Field of Dreams farm, what they are and what they do. I hope soon this is all resolved and the couple can have peace at last."
Sharon Bradley said Mr Byford and Ms Smith were "doing a great job" looking after the animals and having children and clubs at the site.
She added: "A lot of people in the Thurston area love this farm and use it regularly!
"There are also a lot of volunteers that help out which they enjoy, and it helps with their health too! During lockdown and due to my husband and me self-isolating, I only had to text Mark or Sue and that would drop round anything we needed! And still carry on now if I can’t get there.
"There open days are very popular and being able to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and plants close to home is a great advantage, especially when you are served by a friendly face!
"I hope that a small minority does not close down the farm, when there is a lot of us who wish it to stay! Much prefer a farm than more housing!"
Jennie Bonner said over the last six years she had watched the farm grow in many ways and "it has been a huge part of the community helping many people".
She said as well as offering opportunities to local groups, including those on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, the farm brings enjoyment and education to lots of children and adults and the animals have been given a second chance of a safe home when people have been unable to continue to care for them.
She added: "In the current pandemic Mark and Sue have provided an absolutely vital lifeline to many vulnerable people delivering grocery hampers when people have been self-isolating."
Aeryn Liepa said: "I went to Field of Dream for two years for college work experience and not only helping me learn how to handle and be around a wide range of animals, but they have also allowed me to learn new things like how to talk to customers and helped build confidence in myself with talking to people I don’t know."
A spokesperson for Mid Suffolk District Council said: “This is a long running issue with strength of feeling on both sides, which ultimately went before the Planning Inspectorate.
"The independent planning inspector ruled against Mr Byford’s appeal last September, with all parties, including the council, now having to abide by this decision.
“Mid Suffolk has a rich agriculture heritage and we firmly support farming in our district – but we also have a responsibility to ensure fairness for other businesses in the area that have conformed to regulations, as well as to local residents who have complained about this unauthorised development over several years.
“Prosecution is only ever used as a last resort and we have continued to work with Mr Byford to try to help him find a way to comply while continuing his business. A further site visit will take place later this month to ensure the necessary work is being carried out.”