Farming, family and therapy

Caroline Fraser | 02.07.14

On a beautifully sunny day in June, Liz Potts, Elise Austin and I travelled south west to Jamie’s Farm in Wiltshire.

A number of students from a south west London secondary school were half way through their five day residential visit. Aged 11 to 16 years, they had various emotional and behavioural problems - the type of young people who benefit from the holistic approach of Jamie's Farm.​

One, 1​5​ year old Joanne, was returning for a second visit - this time as a mentor for the 12 ​students from her school who were attending for the first time.

Joanne described her first visit to the farm a year ago: "I loved it. I went back home after and decided to change everything - no more bad behaviour like before, no more trying to get kicked out of school. Then my teacher said that I maybe could go again to the farm, and now I am here - helping other students. I am so happy."  

We were joined on our visit by Gemma Young from St James’s Place Wealth Management, who funded an outdoor dining room and pizza oven, both of which were built by local volunteers 18 months ago. Accompanied by Jamie Feilden (founder and CEO) and Jake Curtis (Programme Manager), Joanne gave us a​ tour of the farm. 

First stop Bumble the Bull – ​looking hot and bothered in the heat - luckily ​we viewed from a safe distance and none of us was wearing red. Only Jamie actually got in the pen with him (showing off really). Next we met a called Jai and a pony called ​Jake​  and the two students busy grooming them, painting hooves and braiding tails. Joanne also showed us​ three two-week-old lambs that she had helped name earlier in the week.

After the tour we split up and joined staff and students on their morning activities. 

Gemma: "I spent the morning with the horses. Rachel works with each student and a horse in a calm structured way. This begins with getting them used to horses through grooming activities, and then enabling the student to build up trust with the horse. Eventually the student takes a leadership role, through undertaking a series of set exercises and giving the horse clear instructions (to walk/ trot/canter/stop/follow me). This half day session with the horse and Rachel culminates in a huge sense of achievement and pride for each student."

Elise: "I joined the farming group with the promise of chasing cows around a field with two young people and, thankfully, a real farmer Douggie. The students leapt to their tasks to isolate three cows needing medication, restock the sheep’s feed and refill their water troughs. Their delight in sharing the responsibility of real farm upkeep was evident and, despite initial dislike, both helped with the gruesome job of carrying away a dead sheep. With the rolling hills around anything felt possible and, seizing his chance, the business teacher in the group opened a discussion about coursework with one of the young people who gladly accepted the challenge."

Liz: "I worked in the vegetable garden alongside Katie with two keen young gardeners. We worked as two teams, each adult paired with a young person. My pair enthusiatically invited me to sample the produce. Luckily, Katie didn't mind us getting slightly distracted by sampling broad beans straight from the pods. We had a great morning getting through various tasks, weeding, planting and staking, working in the beautiful sunshine. We were very proud when everyone was enjoying the farm grown salad at lunch time.​"

Caroline: "I visited Richard's carpentry session, where two students were making timber pens for the lambs. I then helped prepare baked potatoes and salads for lunch while listening to an impromptu piano concert, a duet by a student and the artist leading the art session in the art room next to the kitchen." 

After lunch, Tish chaired a special discussion with the students. ​During this group session, the young people were ​each ​asked to reflect on how the experience so far at the farm​ had impacted on them – we heard ​lots of great responses about feeling calmer and having sense of fulfilment from achieving tasks. They were also asked to give their 'check out'  - ie score out of 10 for the morning's activity, almost everyone checked out with a 10/10! (The one 9/10 was because of suffering from hayfever.)​

How they do what they do

Tish Feilden, psychotherapist and therapy co-ordinator​, said:

"​The farm is a welcoming home for children to enjoy, and a place for them to experience being part of a big supportive family. These children benefit from a change of scene, and special attention from the teachers that come with them, and especially from the family of dedicated adults who work and volunteer at Jamie's Farm. The beautiful rural setting and the variety of farm activities is new and inspiring. They get support to think about themselves, gain confidence and start to take control of their own lives. "

"Healthy food, the shared preparation, sitting down at regular mealtimes and talking together, is a big part of the experience. Students who do not like the look of home grown vegetables on Day 1, are surprised by how much they are enjoying them and devouring them by Day 2. Farm work makes you hungry, and food tastes so good when you have grown it, picked it and cooked it on the farm."

Tish meets with each student individually and also in groups throughout the visit​. The teachers and Jamie's Farm staff keep in contact and follow up with the students after they depart. The impact over a two year period is overwhelmingly positive. There are so many success stories like Joanne's. On average, Jamie's team see sustained positive changes in 8 out of 10 children who visit the farm.

One of the accompanying teachers said: "I came on the previous visit as well. I have been involved with many and various initiatives in my career and I can say that Jamie's Farm is the best thing. Really it is, the positive change for these students during the week and afterwards is ​just fantastic."

LandAid have been working with Jamie's Farm for two years, and we are excited that we currently have a joint grant with St James’s Place Foundation for the set up of a second Jamie’s Farm ​in Herefordshire, enabling the charity to reach double the number of young people - an additional 500 each year.​The second farm is due to open in January 2015. Key staff have been appointed and will be trained at the existing farm from September onwards. Schools in the Midlands are already booked in. 

​St James's Place Foundation ​has awarded funding of £45,000; a joint-funding with LandAid’s funding of £110,000. The total £155,000 funding for the second farm​ is being managed by LandAid as a single joint grant.