The Lewes farm making a difference to young people's lives
Education charity Jamie’s Farm was set-up by an ex-teacher and his psychotherapist mother in 2009.
It currently has three farms one in Bath, Hereford, and Monmouth, plus a recently opened farm in Lewes.
Statistics from the charity say that 35 children are excluded daily from school and only one per cent of these get five good GCSEs needed for employment, one in two have a mental health problems and the majority will make up the prison population.
Toby Meanwell has been education manager with the charity for four-and-a-half years and saw first hand the impact the farm has on the children that visit.
“I had been a visiting teacher and saw the great work it does,” he says.
“The opportunity came up to work and help set up the Hereford farm and I just couldn’t say no.”
The farm offers day retreats for schools but the main programme, Toby says, is the week retreat.
“The students come on a Monday and leave Friday,” he adds.
“They stay at the farmhouse, which has seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, with their teachers we can have about 12 children stay depending on the sex split plus three teachers.
“While they are here they cook for themselves and then work on the farm - feeding animals, moving cows and sheep, cutting wood, and craft making.
“This isn’t a petting zoo but a working farm and they come and work with us day in day out with the staff who live on site, they basically join our family.”
For almost 10 years now Jamie’s Farm has delivered its programme to 5,600 vulnerable children.
In 2018, 1,180 disadvantaged children benefitted from Jamie’s Farm; of those at risk of exclusion, 75 per cent no longer were six months after visiting the farm.
“Any child can benefit from a visit to the farm but we cater mainly for vulnerable children, those on school meals, with trouble at home or at risk of being excluded,” explains Toby
“We also do revision weeks, so we have had some year 11 girls who were being disruptive at school and needed to refocus. They came to revise maths but also work on the farm with no phone, no peer pressure or social media.
“That way they could just focus on their work and whereas before they would lash out if they didn’t understand something here they felt they could ask for help and they grew in confidence.
“We want the children that visit to own their behaviour and make positive changes.”
The farm caters for those aged 11 to 16.
“It is a tough job but a very rewarding one when you see the difference it can make,” he says.
“We show them they can be successful. They have times when they don’t see success at school but we give them jobs they can be successful in and show them how they can take that feeling and apply it to the school work.
“It is about growing them in confidence in their abilities.”
The charity owns its other farms but Lewes it has a 21-year lease.
“The charity couldn’t afford to buy another one but the opportunity came up to have the lease for this one,” explains Toby.
“The person knew of the work of Jamie’s Farm and wanted to bring it to the south coast.
“It was just perfect as it had the functional farm house and 200 acres.
“We feel that the journey to this wonderful, adventurous place is as much about it as the work they do.
“For many of the children that visit it is a complete life swap.”
The team in Lewes work between 40-42 weeks of the year and in the holidays work with cared for children, some schools and offer carer respite.
In terms of working with schools Toby explains that if they are willing to travel they are happy to have them.
With funding an issue for many schools at the moment Toby says: “What we find is that school may struggle for funding as they can’t justify the spend so we join them up with funding groups who may be able to help and if there are other funding groups that want to help we are open to the idea.”
For more information on Jamie’s Farm, visit jamiesfarm.org.uk