Sam Farmer: 'I'm staying'

Sam Farmer: 'I'm staying'

A climbing instructor who introduces town-dwelling young people to the outdoors has vowed to continue his work after his gear was destroyed in an arson attack.

Sam Farmer said the incident last month was the latest in a series of racist attacks he has had to endure since moving to Cornwall 12 years ago.

The 47-year-old, who was born in Liverpool, runs the Hope Project at St Agnes, a surfers’ paradise on the north Cornwall coast. But for the keen outdoorsman, the last few years have been more like hell, with racist abuse from some of the residents and neighbours.

The St Agnes website boasts of a traditional friendly Cornish atmosphere and a thriving community. But since setting up his project, Mr Farmer has felt anything but welcome.

After taking a Mountain Leader Training course in Llanberis when he was 19, he worked up to climbing at E4 grade, and started teaching climbing, canoeing, surfing, campcraft and navigation to youngsters who had never had access to the outdoors before.

He said the project was started for youngsters in Cornwall. “I realised kids in Cornwall, even 10 miles from the coast, don’t go canoeing; they don’t go surfing. That’s a shame.

“We have the most beautiful land that can be found, in Cornwall.

“My partner Carla had an art studio and we said, why not give the studio up for these kids to camp here, to store their surfboards.”

The keen climber and boulderer suggested to her partner they extend their service.

“Then she said: why don’t you contact your old youth centres you used to work with in Liverpool and allow them to use it too.”

Groups from Liverpool and London augmented the visitors from Cornish towns such as Camborne, Redruth and Truro.

Seven unemployed people also helped on the scheme.

“We were doing it for free, just for the joy of it. Every group we brought down would become our friends and we just ended up hanging with them,” he said. “We were finally all ready to get proper payment for it then the neighbours got wind of it.”

Mr Farmer says his only income is £40 a week Working Tax Credit.

Although the locals welcome tourists, he said if they realise you’re moving in they are less friendly.

“When I rent a house here, I have to get a white friend to go and look at the house and give them three months’ rent up front,” he added.

Then on 8 January this year, the stables that doubled up as his partner’s art studio and the store for all his outdoor equipment went up in flames. The building and possessions, together worth £70,000, were destroyed in what police said were suspicious circumstances.

Climbing equipment, tents, surfing gear and all of his partner Carla Watkins’s artwork – 15 years’ worth – along with Mr Farmer’s piano, guitars and his writings were destroyed.

Mr Farmer is convinced the arson was racially motivated.

He says he will not be driven out. “How can I take a gang of kids from the inner city and say to them: ‘here’s what we do; don’t get worried’ and then get worried because someone throws a stone and burns a building?

“What kind of example are we if we instantly get worried and run away? We’re supposed to be pioneers here.

“Cornwall is part of England, whether it likes it or not.”

Mr Farmer said he was warned before the fire. “They told us over three years: ‘You’re a nigger, you’re a nigger; we’re going to burn you down’. Again and again they told us this. They told us three weeks before they did it, we’re going to do it.

“They use racism because they want us to move on; they want our land.

“But my issue here is not racism, it’s how people are treated as outsiders in beautiful locations.

The Hope Project site in north Cornwall

The Hope Project site in north Cornwall

“It’s impossible to get to a rock and climb up it with a gang of kids, who are extra lively, extra colourful, extra noisy as kids are, and you’re trying to go up a rock with them or get to a crag with them and the people who are there already are giving them funny looks.”

The police investigated the fire at the couple’s stables.

A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Constabulary said: “Police were called after reports of a barn fire in St Agnes in the early hours of 8 January.

“The fire was put out and no-one suffered any injuries.

“Following the fire, which was treated as suspicious, an allegation that the incident was a racially aggravated arson was made.

“Police have conducted a thorough and lengthy investigation and spoken to a number of people as part of the enquiry. Police will continue to follow up any new leads and information.”

Mr Farmer says, however, that he has contacted police 35 times, including one incident where he reported that one of his neighbours had shot him with a stun gun, fired pepper in his face and said: “Nigger, we’re going to burn you down.”

But he says the police are not recording the incidents properly as racial offences. “If they shout ‘nigger’ out of the window as they try to run me over, I consider that as racist.”

“I say it’s complete poppycock.

“The police are full of empty words.”

Mr Farmer says he is surprised that he has been turned into what people are calling a climbing activist.

The climber was tackling E4 routes at his peak

The climber was tackling E4 routes at his peak

“I have now turned into a fellow that fights for the right of kids to go climbing. But I thought I was a fellow who took kids climbing.

“I’m sick of fighting for the right for kids to go climbing. I just want to take them climbing,” he said.

“I would like us to be able to walk down the street, with a group of kids and we would like people to smile, and nod their heads; and we would nod our heads.”

He said the council and the police should work to make the outdoors inclusive, not exclusive as he sees the area around St Agnes.

Mr Farmer has had a great deal of support from fellow climbers across the country, through the UKClimbing forums.

He has had offers of money and gear from people he has never met.

“But I’ve spent all week saying to people: please don’t send me cash.”

He also said people had rung him to say they had collected gear for him at climbing walls, but he is worried that people would question his motives.

Nevertheless, people have turned up with vanloads of gear, including a man who had driven down from Sheffield after collecting from equipment from climbers.

But despite the attacks on Mr Farmer, his partner and his daughter, he has one message for the people who want to drive him out of town: “We are not going. I’m staying here, even if I stay here on my knees. It might take us longer to do what we’ve got to do, but at the end of the day, Cornwall is not Russia.”