What is a Care Farm and what do we do?

Social Farms & Gardens, of which we are an approved member, defines care farming as “the therapeutic use of farming practices”.  Sitting next to Mallard Lake on the Lower Moor nature reserve, Lakeside Care Farm has just completed its first fully operational academic year.

Underpinning all our activities is a person-centred approach which aims to meet individual needs. We aim to provide an emotionally and physically safe setting which has an air of calm productivity in which each individual is made to feel part of the Care Farm community. There is a focus on students being ‘school-ready’ and on ‘life preparedness’.

We have learnt much from our first year. Whilst necessarily focusing daily on meeting the needs of our students, we have been continually reflecting and adapting to ensure those ever-changing needs can be met in the future. We move forwards each day yet are always learning from what happened yesterday.

Lakeside Care Farm

Students

This school year (2017-2018) we have worked with 54 children, young people and adults, ranging in age from 4 to 59. All students attend weekly sessions, with individuals ranging from half day per week to three full days per week. The vast majority of our students have attended for the full academic year from their start date.

The age breakdown has been:

 

1.       Primary               22 students

2.       Secondary          7 students

3.       16-18                    13 students

4.       19+                        12 students

Our main referrers are:

1.       Wiltshire Council’s Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) team. The bulk of our primary age students are referred from the SEND team. We are an accredited provider for Wiltshire Council.

2.       Secondary Schools as part of the Alternative Provision programmes for students.

3.       Cirencester College who refer Adult Life Skills groups and those seeking structured work experience.

4.       Home schooling.

There is a continuing and recurring pattern of, once a referrer has referred students to us they either wish to increase the number of weekly sessions attended for individual students or refer new students.

Most of our work with Primary and Secondary students is one-to-one with one staff member being assigned to one student each day, although there is in-built flexibility with staff moving between students if that is deemed in the best interest of the individual student. Relationships between staff and students are key.

Staff and Volunteers

Our staffing and volunteering has been key to our progress this year. Having the ‘right’ staff in place is vital to the success of Lakeside Care Farm. Our staff are from a variety of backgrounds and this greatly adds to the breadth of shared expertise. It is key that they feel supported to commit to our ethos. This is exemplified by a staff comment; “I love being at the Care Farm so much and felt included from my very first day. There is a work culture of openness and kindness.”

To exemplify the breadth of staff expertise, Care Farm staff are from the following backgrounds; teaching, emotional literacy, eco-psychology, care work, landscape gardening, Forest School, horticulture, social work, youth work, mental health, youth offending, special educational needs, personal advising, youth coaching and Conservation Biology.

Further, without our wonderful volunteers we would not be able to develop and maintain the site in the way that we have.

Activities and Infrastructure

As the Care Farm receives referrals for individuals ranging from 4-59 with a huge range of specific needs, our activities need to reflect this. With two large polytunnels, five large raised beds, a vegetable and fruit plot, two Kune Kune pigs, four rabbits and eight guinea pigs, much of our focus is on horticulture and animal care. Our workshop provides opportunities for woodworking and, as Lakeside sits within a larger nature reserve and beef cattle complex, there are also opportunities for conservation work and feeding the cattle. A recently developed apiary now offers the opportunities for bee-keeping. Forest School activities and ‘wild play’ are essential for our younger participants.

Guinea Pig

Accreditations

For students who are finding it challenging to thrive in a traditional school setting, the gaining of accreditations is vital to their progression in life and is seen as a huge positive by referrers. As such, we are delighted that the following accreditations have been awarded at the Care Farm in the academic year 2017-2018:

Accreditation Number of student awards
AQA Unit Award Planting Young Trees using Notch Planting 9
AQA Unit Award Animal Husbandry: Care of a rabbit and a guinea pig 6
AQA Unit Award Basic Woodwork 3
AQA Unit Award Gardening Tools: Preparing a plot of land 2
AQA Unit Award Recognition, Use and Care of Hand Tools Used in Conservation 1
John Muir Discovery Award 1

And finally…

Feedback from our students, referrers and school support workers is vital to our progression. Here are some examples received unsolicited this year:

Social Care and Safeguarding Family Keyworker:

“You have got an excellent reputation and skills and we would like to take what you are doing and the strategies you are using back in to the home.”

Deputy Headteacher

“Thank you as ever for all your help.  I know that you're a big part of turning C's self esteem around.”

“We really appreciate your hard work and time with C and all your help - we know how much he benefits from all that you do.”

Parent email and follow-up email from school Head

“Julia and Dean,

I wanted to tell you a few of F’s comments about how she’s feeling about the farm and her time there. In the car home today she said,

“I like the care farm, it’s like my other school but better”.

“Can I go to the care farm for my birthday?”

“I have lots of friends and I feel happy there now.”

I can really see such a positive impact that her time at the farm is having on her. She goes in so happily, excited and is self organised and comes home confident, chatty and relaxed. She’s noticeably kinder to our own animals, able to pack her own bag for her day and take relevant personal items with her. Her speech and behaviour afterwards is so much more mature and considerate of others. She’s built up a strong bond with Rachel but has accepted working and being left with other staff members. It was lovely today to see that she’d painted a picture for Tony too.

As a parent it’s so lovely to see our child beaming and really in her element!

Kindest regards,

L”

“Hi Rachel,

Many thanks for the report. I am delighted that F is doing so well - I can see how much she enjoys coming and the setting seems perfect for her to thrive; it's good to see that it is beginning to impact positively on her learning/social targets too.

Thanks for all your help.

Best wishes,

Julia”

Student school support worker:

“E had his review yesterday and there aren’t many positive things in his life, but the Care Farm is one of them.”

Student comments:

“I want to work here when I am an adult”

“I love it here. I don’t ever want to leave”

“I feel alive again. I don’t ever want to leave here.”

“I want to do your job when I am older.”

“There’s a lot of laughter here.”