THE BIBLICAL spectacle at Totley Hall Farm has proved so popular that up to four performances are held daily in the three weeks before Christmas.
Diversifying into the Nativity is the idea of Edwin and Jenny Pocock, whose 40.46ha (100-acre) holding is perfectly situated on the outskirts of Sheffield. Staging it with real lambs, a calf called Starlight and Barney the donkey, is the magic touch that captivates city children who may not have visited a farm before
With public interest in their pick-your-own soft fruit enterprise declining and their own enthusiasm for providing seasonal turkeys waning – “plucking birds in a draughty shed up to your eyes in feathers is no fun,” says Jenny – the couple were looking for a novel way of boosting the farm”s income.
“We wanted something that nobody round here was doing,” says Edwin. “Two years ago we were holidaying in Devon when we came across a farm that was running a Nativity. We have at least 1m people on our doorstep. Something like that was perfect. And as we are 250 miles away, there was no possibility of clashing with the other production.”
During the performance Jenny, in costume, acts as narrator and Edwin is a shepherd. Children enact the roles of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men and innkeepers. Where appropriate, songs and carols are sung.
“The story is brought to life by introducing animals at each stage,” says Jenny. “For the start of the journey to Bethlehem on a donkey, Barney is brought on. The little girl who is playing Mary will climb on his back and we set off singing Little Donkey.
“When the shepherds appear to see the baby Jesus in his manger, each will be carrying a lamb. Finally, we all gather in the stable, with the calf, and sing Away in a Manger.
“It is an awful lot of work, but it is fun,” says Jenny, who is an ex-teacher. “Where better could you see a Nativity than on a farm? It is a lovely atmosphere especially when we have families. They say never work with children and animals, but it makes our own Christmas a bit more special so I am sure it will give many of the youngsters some wonderful memories to look back on. It also gives them an insight into the true meaning of Christmas.”
For their inaugural run last year, the total attendance ran into hundreds. This year they are even busier with inquiries coming from as far away as York. School parties form the bulk of the audience.
“Each child is asked if they want to take part when they arrive. Some agree immediately, others are shy at first. We can accommodate 30 performers,” says Jenny. “The actual production lasts half an hour, but by the time they have got dressed up and undressed at the end, it is much longer.” All children receive a present from Santa in his grotto. The Pococks charge 7.50 for adults and children over three, which includes mulled wine for parents, mince pies and refreshments. Under two-year-olds are charged 3.50.
Edwin and Jenny reckon it has cost about 15,000 to set up the Nativity, although 30% of their capital costs were covered by grants
“A lot of money has been spent meeting the regulations,” says Edwin. “We wanted an audience to sit on straw bales, for instance, but it was ruled out as a fire risk. We have had to install proper seating.”
Jumble sales proved a good source of materials for the 60 costumes Jenny has made for the Nativity, matching children of all ages and sizes. Edwin”s Father Christmas outfit was bought from a local party shop.
Life on the farm is slowly being geared to the Christmas show. The Pococks used to grow arable crops and soft fruit, but now they have gone over to sheep, apart from 7ha (15 acres) of wheat. They have Texels and a flock of Dorsets, which, conveniently, will give birth any time. “We start lambing about mid-November, so we have plenty of cuddly lambs for the production. We won a prize with them at the Great Yorkshire Show this year,” says Edwin. They have also bought a Hereford suckler cow, Sunbeam, and her calf, Starlight, especially to take part in the Nativity.
The Nativity is now the couple”s main diversification. Holed up in Santa”s Grotto, Edwin has never been so busy in December. “I don”t even get a chance to have a glass of mulled wine,” he laments.
The Totley Hall Farm Nativity runs until Christmas Eve. Inquiries 0114 236 4761.