We’re supporting Jamie’s Farm again this year.
Here’s a few questions to get more of a feel on what they do!
You ‘help disadvantaged young people to thrive academically, socially and emotionally’.Why farming? What is it about farming that helps young people?
Farming is hugely powerful. Nurturing animals can bring out the best in people, for instance, children often see a new side to themselves, one that is calm, caring and patient, behaviours that come naturally when standing next to a large unfamiliar animal. Children notice the effect these behaviours have on relationships with those around them, their peers and adults, and prefer this side of themselves. From day one Jamie was determined that our farms would not be ‘petting zoos’ but that there would be real jobs with a real purpose, with farming on a commercial scale. Making children integral to the running of the farm gives them enormous satisfaction and pride. The hands-on jobs also provide ample opportunities to build resilience, grit and determination, and without distractions from mobile phones or computer games. In a single day, a child may feed and muck out our pigs before breakfast, chop some logs in their morning session, harvest vegetables and prepare dinner in their afternoon session, go on a daily walk after tea and then deliver a lamb after dinner. Alongside these jobs we have a programme of therapeutic sessions which will use their activities around the farm as a reference for developing new behaviours that they can take away with them. Crucially, the farms offer a tranquil space surrounded by beautiful countryside to reflect too, and for the vulnerable children we work with, this is a chance to escape pressures back home and vocalise rather than act out challenges they face.
How are young people referred to your farms?
We work closely with schools to identify those who would benefit most, with the original referral coming from the schools. Our programme focuses on children with poor behaviour, low self-esteem and those with low engagement at school. Why do we focus on these areas?
· 99% of young people who are permanently excluded leave school without the necessary qualifications to access the work – they go on to make up the majority of the prison population, bearing a huge cost on society not least themselves;
· A lack of soft skill development affects the success of a young person both in school and beyond, and is actually a more accurate predictor of a child’s academic and occupational success than cognitive ability;
· Self-esteem, a young person’s outlook and possessing grit and resilience are essential factors in engaging with school and having successful outcomes.
We believe that when children are not engaging fully with their education it can be difficult for them to see their potential as successful people. Without opportunities to realise what they are capable of, a course of underachievement and underemployment can be set very early on. The consequences of this are likely to be felt well into adulthood, with the biggest impact on employability, wellbeing and relationships. At Jamie’s Farm, we offer a unique, preventative solution to empower young people to change course.
How do young people react when they come to your farms? Are sent in groups or individually by schools?
From stepping off the minibus there is nearly always a comment on the smell! For most, it is their first time on a farm, and a big step out of their comfort zones– the noise, the smell, the food is different. There is a transition that goes on during the week from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can’t believe I did that’. This huge leap in confidence gives a fantastic boost in self-esteem. Children come in groups of 12, sometimes this includes 2 older children who have been before who act as a mentor for younger ones, 2 or 3 teachers come too and their role is pivotal in the transition back to school. The experience also provides teachers with a unique professional development opportunity improving their practice with some of their most vulnerable children. Feedback from teachers has led to CPD sessions being delivered in schools, in this way teachers who haven’t been to the farm can learn from our methodology too.
Are there any success stories that spring to mind for Jamies Farm?
We always love hearing back from Jamie’s Farmers, even years after they have come to the farm. One girl recently got in touch to let us know she had got into Cambridge! There is a story about one boy, who we will call Khalid. He came from Afghanistan as an unaccompanied asylum seeker and had witnessed atrocities back home. When he came to Jamie’s Farm he was living between foster care and extended relatives, but was drawn into gang violence and became a runner for drug dealers – it gave him a sense of family that was missing at home. He was one incident away from getting permanently excluded from school. Khalid thrived here on the farm, he loved all the practical jobs and showed excellent leadership skills early on. He committed to an extended follow-up programme at our city farm, and now back at school has really turned things around. He has not had a single detention and credits this to the farm experience. One year on, Khalid has joined us back at Jamie’s Farm Bath for his work experience placement and continues to work well at school and serve as a role model for younger pupils. He was a real asset to the staff team, supervising and motivating younger pupils and even wrote a blog post about his experiences here on the farm.
After they’ve spent some time with you, what is the next step for them?
We run a follow up programme that takes place either in their schools, or for London based students we host them at our city farm in Waterloo. It’s a half acre plot surrounded by tower blocks and the busy-ness of the city but is a real oasis abundant with vegetable gardens, pigs, sheep, chickens and an outdoor kitchen. We monitor progress with students 6 weeks and 6 months on and follow some to the end of their GCSEs.
What does the future hold for Jamie’s Farm?
Over the next two years we are doubling our impact, growing to three farms this year and a fourth farm in 2018. This will see us working with 1,800 disadvantaged children each year. It’s a very exciting time for Jamie’s Farm. The initial spark for the charity came when Jamie, as a fresh graduate, was teaching in a Croydon comprehensive. Shocked by the battleground the school had become, he started taking pupils back to his home farm in Wiltshire. Using his own farming experience and his mother’s 30 years’ experience as a child psychotherapist they realised they had a powerful combination with profound results. It was clear from the very first week the impact that a programme built around ‘Farming, Family and Therapy’ could have on disengaged teenagers. Eight years on, those founding principles remain at the heart of our work, and the charity has built a reputation as an innovative and in-demand intervention programme. We are totally astounded that by 2018 we will be operating from five farms!