Giving young people a second chance to learn at Jamie's Farm

Friday, 07 December 2018

Youth agriculture

Focused on helping secondary school students at risk of exclusion, Jamie’s Farm brings together farming, family and therapy. Alex Smith takes a trip to the charity’s new site in Monmouth to find out how a grant from Freemasons is helping to cultivate change in disadvantaged children

Thirty-five children will be excluded from school in the UK today. Of those, more than 99 per cent will leave without five good GCSEs and so will struggle to be accepted for post-16 apprenticeships or training. Each of these will cost the taxpayer £350,000 during their lifetime. 

The figures come from the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Ministry of Justice, but Jamie’s Farm wants to change the status quo, ‘to enable disadvantaged young people to thrive academically, socially and emotionally’. The charity was founded in 2005 by Jamie Feilden, a former history teacher at Manor School in Croydon. Frustrated with the bad behaviour of some pupils, Jamie conducted an experiment. He brought in some lambs from his family farm in Wiltshire, set up pens in the playground and tasked his students with looking after them. 

Amazingly, the worst-behaved seemed to benefit the most, becoming calmer and more focused. So several months later and helped by his mother, Tish, a psychotherapist who’d worked with children all her life, Jamie’s Farm opened its barn doors for the first time.

Thirteen years on, the charity has grown into a national organisation, with facilities in Bath, Hereford, London and Monmouth – and a fifth opening in East Sussex in April 2019. A lot has changed in the last few years, but according to Ruth Young, education manager and resident mother hen of Jamie’s Farm Monmouth, the curriculum is still the same. 

‘We have three principles: farming, family and therapy,’ says Young. ‘Each school identifies specific objectives for the kids before they arrive. Sometimes it’s better self-regulation, with others it’s better wellbeing or more self-belief.’ 

ROUTINES AND RELAXATION

Once the young people have signed a contract forbidding mobile phones and sugary snacks, the week-long residential begins in earnest. The farm hands start at 7:30am, their first task being to prepare breakfast, often using ingredients from the farm garden. Once they and their teachers have eaten together, they start the first activity, which could be anything from feeding animals to chopping wood. Then it’s time for lunch, followed by an hour-and-a-half walk, dinner, evening entertainment, and finally, bed.

It’s a strict routine, but the children are given time and space to communicate their feelings. This is often done during group sessions, with students giving ‘shout-outs’ to others for commendable actions, such as bravery, or simply doing something they didn’t want to. For more sensitive issues, one-on-one conversations are offered by the farm’s therapy coordinator. They’ll often talk about what’s going on at home; what’s bothering them. This information is shared with the child’s teacher, who follows it up with appropriate parties to provide support. After the residential, there’s a follow-up programme, including visits to the child’s school, to ensure each student achieves their potential.

‘Each school identifies specific objectives for the kids before they come here. Sometimes it’s better self-regulation, for others it’s better wellbeing or better self-belief’

THE POWER OF RESPONSIBILITY

The results have been extraordinary. From 2017 to 2018, more than half of Jamie’s Farm participants stopped being at risk of exclusion just six weeks after going on the residential; 56 per cent showed increased engagement and 66 per cent showed improved levels of self-esteem. And six months later the percentages are even more impressive.

‘It’s about giving responsibility to young people who’ve never had it before,’ says Young. ‘A lot of them have never seen the countryside before, let alone a farm. But they love it,’ she says, pointing to Hannad, a student trying – successfully, in the end – to catch a chicken. 

‘It’s been fun; we eat together and talk about how we’re feeling and give shout-outs to people who we’ve seen doing good work. I was a bit nervous at first, but we’ve all bonded now. I feel more confident talking about myself,’ explains Hannad, a year-11 student at Harris Academy in Battersea, London.

‘Even within the first day, we notice a change,’ says Dave Pearson-Smith, senior visit coordinator at Jamie’s Farm. ‘By the end of the week, the difference can be like night and day. They stand up straighter, they look healthier – it’s extraordinary.’

On a tour of the farm, Young points out the garden, kitchen, equipment shed and woodworking area – much of which has been facilitated by the £39,000 grant from Monmouthshire Freemasons, which came through the Masonic Charitable Foundation. ‘Wellies, overalls, waterproofs, gardening tools – a lot of this is down to the grant,’ says Young. ‘Some young people arrive at the farm without proper clothing, but thanks to the Freemasons, we can say, “We’ll take care of everything.” We’re very grateful for their support.’

‘The grant has paid for a lot of what the young people interact with on the farm. It’s fantastic’

MONEY WELL SPENT

‘It’s made a massive difference,’ says Katie Francis, fundraising and volunteer manager for Jamie’s Farm. ‘The grant will cover all our student activity costs each year, such as games and clothing for the young people, pet food, seeds, art materials, woodworking tools… but it’s also our running costs. The grant has paid for a lot of what the young people interact with on the farm. It’s fantastic.’

Richard Davies, Provincial Grand Master of Monmouthshire, says that supporting Jamie’s Farm was an obvious choice. ‘I visited the farm with the Deputy and the Provincial Treasurer, and we were so impressed with what we saw,’ he says. ‘We pledged that we will give them whatever support we can.’ 

In the last 20 years, Monmouthshire Freemasons have given over £600,000 to local causes, and are always looking for new ways to support their Province. ‘We noticed some dilapidated beehives on the farm,’ says Richard, ‘so we’re funding their replacement and offering training so the staff can maintain their bee stocks, perhaps producing their own jars of honey with the masonic logo on them.’

As for Jamie’s Farm, it will continue cultivating change in children who need it most. ‘When my teacher mentioned Jamie’s Farm I thought, “I’m not going to enjoy this… no phone, no sugary drinks, no TV,”’ recalls Ellie, a year-11 student from Harris Academy. ‘On my first day, I was like, “What am I going to do?” But I’ve enjoyed it so much. Before I came here I always felt like I had someone on my back, but now I feel like most of my worries have gone. I’ll just look at a view and think… it’s all so beautiful.’

For more information and to make a donation, visit www.jamiesfarm.org.uk

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