NA­TURE & NUR­TURE

In the idyllic sur­round­ings of Jamie Feilden’s Wilt­shire farm, dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple gain sup­port and grow in con­fi­dence while car­ing for an­i­mals and ac­quir­ing ru­ral skills

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by kitty cor­ri­gan

In the pic­turesque sur­round­ings of Jamie Feilden’s Wilt­shire farm, dis­ad­van­taged young­sters grow in con­fi­dence while car­ing for an­i­mals and ac­quir­ing ru­ral skills

ababy lamb bit me on the nose,” says one pupil, with his hand up in class. Not a new ver­sion of “The dog ate my home­work” ex­cuse, but an ex­cited boy telling the teacher about his week at Jamie’s Farm. The Jamie in ques­tion is Jamie Feilden, a former school­teacher whose ground­break­ing char­ity is chang­ing the lives of ten-to-18-year-olds at risk of ex­clu­sion from main­stream ed­u­ca­tion. As a less-than-per­fect stu­dent him­self – “I strug­gled at school and was a bor­der­line ADHD suf­ferer” – he poured his en­ergy into look­ing af­ter an­i­mals on his fam­ily’s small­hold­ing near Bath. His mother, Tish, a psy­chother­a­pist, was keen to sup­port what proved to be such a help­ful fo­cus. “She was the driv­ing force be­hind this project,” Jamie says. “When it came to of­fer­ing schools and pupils a way of get­ting dis­rup­tive chil­dren back on track, she was im­me­di­ately on board.”

It was later (while teach­ing in Croy­don in 2003) that Jamie de­cided there had to be a bet­ter way to work with chil­dren who con­tin­u­ally mis­be­haved. “The school was in a de­prived area with 65 na­tion­al­i­ties. Ev­ery day was a bat­tle­field. I be­came con­vinced that if I could take some of th­ese kids to a farm to do phys­i­cal, re­ward­ing work – real jobs with re­spon­si­bil­ity and a pur­pose – they would be­come pos­i­tive and con­fi­dent.” With a small in­vest­ment from his mother and the use of her farm­house as a base (with a horse­box for an of­fice), the idea took root. While it was his mother who had nur­tured Jamie’s love of farm­ing, it was the sud­den death of his father Richard, fol­low­ing an ac­ci­dent on the farm, that spurred Jamie on. “We had talked about start­ing a business to­gether and he was keen on the char­ity idea,” he says. “I keep striv­ing in his mem­ory.”

Jamie con­tin­ued to work part-time while pi­lot­ing the scheme – build­ing a net­work of sup­port­ers within ed­u­ca­tion at the char­ity Teach First – and af­ter two years they were ready to launch. Since then, they have worked with 5,000 chil­dren. His mother’s prop­erty was soon too small for the num­bers who wanted to come, so a loan from the eth­i­cal bank Tri­o­dos and in­vest­ment from a lo­cal consortium en­abled them to pur­chase Hill House Farm in Wilt­shire, still the char­ity’s HQ , and they have bought two more, in Long­town, Here­ford­shire, and Red­brook, Mon­mouthshire, which opened last Jan­uary.

Groups of ten or 12 pupils come through­out the year to stay for a week. To­day it’s the turn of Harris Academy from Or­p­ing­ton,

“I was con­vinced that if th­ese kids could do phys­i­cal, re­ward­ing work, they would be­come more pos­i­tive and con­fi­dent”

In bond­ing with the an­i­mals, the chil­dren learn to un­der­stand their emo­tions

Kent. They will be chop­ping logs for fire­wood, muck­ing out the pigsties, groom­ing the horses and help­ing with win­ter lamb­ing. (The farm keeps a va­ri­ety of breeds that will give birth in dif­fer­ent sea­sons.) All are out of their comfort zone, and some are fright­ened of horses. One of their first tasks is to work with a horse that has been badly treated in the past; it is fright­ened of hav­ing its rug put on, but it needs to wear one from au­tumn un­til spring. “A horse will not re­spond if you are fear­ful or ag­gres­sive,” Tish ex­plains. “You need to be calm and cen­tred, to breathe steadily and gain con­trol.” Un­der her su­per­vi­sion, the chil­dren learn how to ap­proach the horse and gain its con­fi­dence. In bond­ing with the an­i­mals, they also learn that if they can con­trol their emo­tions, they are more likely to get what they want (and not be told off by the teacher). Mean­while, there’s an emer­gency in the lamb­ing shed. A ewe is strain­ing to give birth to twins, but one of them has got its leg stuck. “I’m not touch­ing that yucky stuff,” says one boy, but, when shown what to do, it’s thanks to him that both lambs are saved.

“There is al­ways a good mix of kids,” Jamie says, “and al­though they might try to test you at first, the dom­i­nant ones tend to be­come milder in com­pany. We see young peo­ple with anger is­sues, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or other men­tal health prob­lems. Of­ten the cause is low self-es­teem. Dis­rup­tive be­hav­iour can be a cry for help. I can em­pathise with them. I know the value of work, but many of those who come have never had a mem­ber of their fam­ily in work, have no father fig­ure or ever eaten to­gether round a ta­ble at home.”

Ev­ery evening, the farm vis­i­tors sit down in the kitchen and talk, while help­ing them­selves to nuts and fruit (crisps and en­ergy

drinks are not on of­fer). “I wanted this to feel like a fam­ily farm, not an in­sti­tu­tion,” Jamie says. There’s a games room, a break-out space with so­fas and, if their en­ergy is still not spent, they can prac­tise their drum­ming around the bon­fire. The rules at the welly-boot camp in­clude a dig­i­tal detox. Mo­bile phones are taken away, as are ipads and other elec­tronic de­vices; if they don’t ac­cept the rules, they are sent home – “but that hap­pens only to one in a hun­dred”.

The char­ity is not cheap to run. Each school pays a fee of £6,000 to send a group of 12. Other funds come from trusts and foun­da­tions such as Chil­dren in Need and Comic Relief, and a third from farm-earned in­come. This is made from sell­ing pork, beef and lamb lo­cally and rent­ing out the three farm­houses for fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions, hen par­ties (with fresh eggs for break­fast) or friends’ get-to­geth­ers. Com­pared with the cost of not tack­ling anti-so­cial be­hav­iour at a young age, it’s money well spent, for, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search (IPPR), “Ev­ery co­hort of per­ma­nently ex­cluded pupils will go on to cost the state an ex­tra £2.1 bil­lion in ed­u­ca­tion, health, ben­e­fits and crim­i­nal jus­tice costs.” Its re­port, in Oc­to­ber 2017, stated: “Ex­cluded chil­dren are the most vul­ner­a­ble: twice as likely to be in the care of the state, four times more likely to have grown up in poverty, seven times more likely to have a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional need and ten times more likely to suf­fer recog­nised men­tal health prob­lems.” The re­sults of a week on the farm can be seen in the pupils’ vastly im­proved be­hav­iour, as noted by their teach­ers. A re­mark­able 69 per cent who were at risk of ex­clu­sion are re­moved from that cat­e­gory just six weeks later, when a fol­low-up ses­sion is held. Harry, 13, an ADHD suf­ferer, says: “I am not be­ing told off as much now. I find it hard to con­cen­trate at school, but the farm helped me to calm down. I am work­ing on be­ing still in class, and not gig­gling as much.”

Each child who at­tends the farm re­ceives a cer­tifi­cate mark­ing their achieve­ments and un­der­lin­ing the lessons they have learned. For ex­am­ple: “Tom would make an amaz­ing far­rier be­cause he is great with horses. Try to get the teach­ers on your side so you don’t

“I wanted this to feel like a fam­ily farm, not an in­sti­tu­tion”

get de­ten­tion and can play foot­ball af­ter school in­stead.” Th­ese prove very ef­fec­tive, but of­ten it’s the less ex­pected lessons that seem to make the most pro­found im­pact. One sur­pris­ing com­ment is from Charley, 14: “The best part was climb­ing up a muddy hill in the dark,” she says, re­mem­ber­ing the evening walks, in hi-vis jack­ets, with Hamish, a re­tired sheep­dog, on a lead. Not an ob­vi­ous high­light for an ur­ban girl more used to In­sta­gram and Spo­tify, but a five-mile hike on a dank and dark au­tumn night seems to have worked its own par­tic­u­lar magic.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Jamie’s Farm and to make a do­na­tion, visit jamies­farm.org.uk.

pho­to­graphs by alun cal­len­der

Jamie (op­po­site, above) has now wel­comed 5,000 young peo­ple to his farm – giv­ing them a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity in a safe, homely en­vi­ron­ment

Jamie’s Farm has proved such a suc­cess that a fourth one is planned to open next year in East Sus­sex

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