Farmer defends seasonal workforce

A FARMER has robustly defended his seasonal workforce garnered from Eastern and Central Europe amid rumours they are ruining a rural idyll with a string of disturbances.

A FARMER has robustly defended his seasonal workforce garnered from Eastern and Central Europe amid rumours they are ruining a rural idyll with a string of disturbances.

Richard Hirst, whose farm in North Road, Ormesby St Margaret, is at the centre of controversial hostel plans, said at a meeting on Monday night that “to tar them with that brush is terrible,” adding: “I did not realise we were opening such a can of worms. They are all university students looking to experience a bit of western life and earn money.”

His plan to turn temporary accommodation for up to 150 workers into a year-round hostel received a mixed reception from around 35 villagers at Ormesby with Scratby Parish Council's meeting, with near neighbours strongly opposed and claiming “a groundswell of disgruntlement,” and others welcoming the opportunity to control and regularise the units.

The students who have been coming from countries like the Ukraine, Macedonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Ormesby in increasing numbers for around six years to work on a group of farms were said, by some, to be behind a range of problems spanning litter, noise and vandalism to intimidation and serious assaults.

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Chairman Geoff Freeman read out a letter from a resident in Mill View worried about the safety of children in the nearby family-orientated development with workers “who do not speak a word of English” roaming the streets spreading harassment and drunken noise.”

Meanwhile, near neighbour Barry Barrett, tagged the operation a “campsite for young people” and said anecdotal evidence against the workers was strong.

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Mr Hirst explained that East Coast Growers relied on the foreign agriculture students to do work that local people would not and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get them because of concerns about migration.

He said: “We can carry on doing what we are doing - we can have students there temporarily - but I want to provide them with better facilities. They are coming a long way from home and if any of you have children of that age you can appreciate what you would want

for them.

He said he had not received a single complaint about the students but added he knew of two incidents. The first, he said, involved two students who were sent home and dismissed from their universities after fighting between themselves, and the second involved a female student who was mugged by locals.

He added that there had been 136 students on site at its peak and the application involved no rise in numbers or extension to the season.

The units, although permanent, would be occupied seasonally, allowing him to plough the £15,000 it cost to remove them each year into better facilities.

Mr Freeman said he was not aware of any issues with the students and welcomed the application which, if successful, would allow for better controls at the Mill Farm site where neighbours want screening and consideration over where the 18 dormitory units are placed.

Eleven of the 12 parish councillors supported the scheme, with one abstention.

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