Anyone who has ever lived in the countryside or worked on a farm will understand how being near animals, breathing fresh air and having open space all around can boost your sense of well-being. These elements are now being harnessed to help vulnerable young people overcome the challenges in their lives, gain confidence and develop essential social and vocational skills.
Qualified social worker, Julie Plumley, grew up on a farm. She now runs Ryelands Farm in Dorset with her husband and their son. This working farm of 30 acres is also one of 250 care farms in the UK and uses animal-assisted therapy to help young people facing difficulties. When she was growing up, Julie recalls that “the farm always used to put me right and offered its own kind of therapy.” After having a row she had several fields to stomp across to get it out of her system and always felt like she had a purpose when helping with jobs on the farm.
The Plumley family work with children and young people that are extremely challenged. Almost all of them are excluded from school, many are excluded from learning centres, most are in care. Julie believes that a stay on the farm can make a real difference to their lives. Most stay for a six-week period although some stay for up to a year.
“During their stay, these kids are famers. They have responsibilities and jobs to do. They have a purpose.” The research suggests that Julie is absolutely right. Studies have shown that those who’ve attended a care farm show a significant reduction in mental health risks, improved behaviour and heightened self-esteem.
Jake Curtis runs Jamie’s Farm which delivers a 5-day residential experience and follow-up from rural farms in Hereford, Monmouth and Bath as well as a city farm in London. Curtis explains that phones are prohibited, the kids are given jobs to do, a good diet, plenty of fresh air and hands on experiences with animals. The farm also runs one-to-one equine therapy sessions which really allow the children to see how their behaviour can be mirrored and the impact it has on others.
It’s not just children and young people benefitting from the therapy that care farms can offer. Adults can also find this experience uniquely beneficial. Care farms have delivered excellent results in treating those with anxiety, PTSD, depression, autism and more.
UK care farms can be commercial farm businesses, community interest companies (CICs), charities or charitable companies. Care Farming UK estimates the average number of clients attending a care farm at 35 per week with much of the funding for young people being provided by schools and independent fundraising.