Standing on a long road peppered with perennial nurseries and commercial garden centers, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the countryside.

That is until you look up to see the Croydon skyline glistening on the horizon.

This rural haven just outside of Wallington is also home to London’s only community-owned farm - the aptly named Sutton Community Farm. 

The seven-acre site on the far reaches of Sutton sees seasonal and organic produce grown year-round, which is then sent out to families and small businesses across the country.

Your Local Guardian: The seven acre site sits overlooking Croydon on the horizon Credit: Harrison GallivenThe seven acre site sits overlooking Croydon on the horizon Credit: Harrison Galliven

The farm grows everything from leafy greens like cavolo nero to Mediterranean nectarines and wild herbs.

It is also a force in the local area and the 450 community shareholders who run the farm pride themselves in the outreach work.

Despite this, the farm feels its efforts are being ignored by the Sutton Council.

The local democracy reporting service (LDRS) spoke to Sonia Cropper, Head of Communications at the farm, about their relationship with the local authority.

She said: “Our relationship with the council doesn’t lead to much benefit to us as a community enterprise.”

Your Local Guardian: The farm holds events throughout the year and encourages neurodivergent adults to volunteer on the farm Credit: Sutton Community FarmThe farm holds events throughout the year and encourages neurodivergent adults to volunteer on the farm Credit: Sutton Community Farm

Cropper told the LDRS how despite being based within the borough for 14 years the council is still yet to back up their enthusiasm with tangible support for the farm.

She said: “They are happy that we exist and are happy to signpost towards us occasionally when we win an award. They’ll get quite excited about that.”

She added: “The cost of living crisis has meant that we’ve seen demand diminish after a huge surge through the first two years of the pandemic. Currently, we are running at quite a significant loss.

"The crowd funder at the start of the year was successful and part of that campaign was to try to engage the council and get to support us more, but it didn’t lead to much in the end. They made some suggestions on how they could help that they didn’t deliver on in the end.”

Your Local Guardian: The not for profit farm is collectively owned by around 450 community shareholders Credit: Sutton Community FarmThe not for profit farm is collectively owned by around 450 community shareholders Credit: Sutton Community Farm

“They have digital billboards, and they said they would put us on their billboards for free, but that never happened.

"We have had various meetings with their comms team, who seem hyped about us, but it never really leads to anything.

"We also have three big public events per year, we’ll get in touch with them to amplify them, but they rarely do and not in a way that makes that much of a difference.”

Cropper believes some of the farm’s problems stem from its frontier location in the borough.

While she admits the farm is ‘rooted’ in Sutton, Cropper told the LDRS how it often feels forgotten as the land is owned by neighbouring Surrey county council.

She said: “The boundaries have been changed over the years and we’re right on the border.

“It makes it slightly tricky for us because we’re technically in Sutton but the land has nothing to do with them. Especially because being on the edge of Surrey means they don’t get any kudos for having a community farm. It can make it hard for us to get any traction when we need to do things like renew our lease.

“We get it, they don’t really have the means to give us money. That’s the problem with many councils I’m sure. They don’t want to end up like Croydon.

"We don’t get any money from central government either. The majority of the money coming in comes from organisations like the City Bridge Trust and national lottery funding.”

Despite having seven full-time staff, Cropper being one of them, the farm’s future depends on its 450 community shareholders.

The farm is collectively owned by those people and exists for the benefit of the community.

They also make up the base of the volunteers, who do everything from weeding and tilling to harvesting and delivering.

Regular volunteer and community shareholder Dorothy told the LDRS of the benefits the farm has brought to her life.

She said: “Volunteering regularly at the farm has helped with structure in my week.

"I enjoy the physical exercise involved and the mental stimulation in a great environment. There is a great camaraderie working alongside other regular volunteers but also new people coming along, helping them settle in.”

“I have met some fabulous people I would not have come in contact with otherwise. I feel my small contribution is making a difference in supporting the farm to reach its objectives and I feel valued as part of the farm community and that is special.

"I love walking up Telegraph Track in the early morning on my way to the farm, with the birds singing and the beauty of nature all around, it’s the best feeling. A great to be alive moment.”

Another volunteer named Rohan told the LDRS: “Volunteering at the farm has given me a stable, supportive space to come to.

"It nurtured friendships, created a feeling of belonging, and enlivened in me a passion for growing fruit and veg that never existed before!

Being able to connect with others in a safe outdoor environment, while also knowing we were providing an essential service during the pandemic, was heartening. It has been the perfect antidote against the helplessness and isolation that we’ve all felt during this period.”

The farm also encourages neuro-divergent residents to ‘muck in’ on the farm, believing it is a free and accessible way to boost mental and physical well-being.

Cropper told the LDRS: “We welcome autistic adults and adults with learning disabilities to get involved in farm activities each week.

"These valued members of the farm community are supported by a trained social and therapeutic horticulturist to work together as a team doing physical tasks to suit a range of abilities. This provides an opportunity to spend time outside in nature while improving overall health and feeling happier through making friendships and being part of a community.”

When approached for comment, a representative of Sutton Council said: “The Council is a great supporter of Sutton Community Farm’s work and we have been very happy to promote their amazing community work in our publications regularly over the past year.”