Care Farm Project
Boltons Park Farm's Care Farm Project is making a positive difference to the lives of vulnerable individuals in Hertfordshire who are experiencing social or educational exclusion, by providing therapeutic experiences with farm animals.
The project is delivered in partnership with Farming for All, a not-for-profit Community Interest Company.
The beneficiaries of this working partnership have a range of support needs that can act as barriers to social inclusion, including: complex mental health problems such as schizophrenia and learning difficulties; social problems like homelessness and personal issues like substance and alcohol addiction. We have found that through interaction with animals and the outdoors in a safe environment, our projects help participants to regain self esteem, break down social barriers and increase their long term personal prospects.
How does the Care Farm Project work?
The activities which comprise the Care Farm Project have been designed and developed over the past three years into a portfolio of courses which have a tremendously positive impact on those involved. Their main aim is to empower individuals through small achievements and inspire them to try new things – very few have ever spent time on a working farm and so with each group of participants they start from the same position.
Traditional, every-day farm activities are used as a learning opportunity and individuals are encouraged to plan, organise, communicate between themselves, and be given the chance to try their ideas and to then self-evaluate their successes and problems. Practical skills are also acquired in these areas but the farm task is the vehicle for the personal development skills and life lessons essential to rehabilitation and recovery rather than the end goal.
The opportunity for participants to work with farm animals is arguably this project’s most effective tool. The therapeutic benefits of working with animals are well documented but this work also provides practical opportunities for problem solving and adaptability due to the nature of working with animals. As participants progress through the courses they are gradually given more responsibility and the opportunity to develop independent thought and leadership skills in a safe, non-judgemental environment.
The Care Farm Project Programme
Engagement Courses - Many of our beneficiaries are living chaotic lifestyles involving unemployment, drugs and alcohol. They often have poor mental health and lack confidence, motivation, personal and social skills. This in turn can make it difficult for them to commit to long term plans as they are so involved in their own challenges. It is also true that many have low levels of formal education and therefore have a perception that any adult learning is something to be feared and avoided. Our Engagement Courses aim to engage these individuals to take a step forward into learning and feel confident enough to apply for further course. The courses focus on specific areas of work including lambing, equine husbandry, the working dairy and farm produce.
Care Farm Courses - On this course participants engage in a full range of motivating and achievable activities, such as helping with lambing; collecting eggs and cleaning the chicken house; bringing in sheep from the field for routine husbandry; and tending site flower beds and baskets. It has been particularly successful in helping clients plan for the future not just the short term, as well as building responsibility, routine, timekeeping and tackling poor social skills and inappropriate behaviour.
Development Skills Course - This course aims to give participants an insight into the format and expectations of a more formal, learning based course in which learning outcomes are set and targets are met. It offers those that previously attended the Care Farm Course an opportunity to be assessed on their learning and obtain a certificate of competence to enhance their CVs.
Since its inception the project has seen phenomenal ‘hard’ outcomes, with many participants using the experience as a way to battle addictions and move on to further courses and volunteering roles. Evidence of benefit is clearly shown from feedback from our own participants. Colin, a former HGV driver, had a stroke in 2010 that left him with impaired communication and speech skills. He joined Farming For All’s horticulture project in 2011 for people with physical disabilities.
After attending this for a year, Colin had progressed physically with his recovery but after being told he would never work again, he still lacked confidence and direction. Colin did not want to give up on his recovery and felt ready to take the next step and try something more physically challenging, so he signed up to the first Care Farm Course of 2012. Colin demonstrated a natural talent as a listener, empowerer and organiser and because of this he was subsequently taken on as a Farm Assistant Volunteer to assist the next course of participants. He then attended our trial Equine Care Project focusing on employability skills and has now been taken on as a part time Client Support Worker within the full time Farming For All staff team.
Colin has also become a proactive advocate of the Care Farm Project and since regaining his speech has given two presentations about the project to large groups of clients from The Stroke Association, encouraging others to join and describing how it has benefitted him.
|This is what Colin has to say about the project:“I had the opportunity to go on the Care Farm Project in January 2012. It was something I think I have always hoped to do, working with livestock. After the 8 week course I made an application to be a volunteer to do more courses to build my confidence and self esteem. I love it. When I became a Farm Assistant Volunteer I really enjoyed watching people develop and giving something back as I have been helped by the project. In the future I’d like to keep volunteering and helping others as I’ve really enjoyed meeting people with different backgrounds, characters and disabilities."|
Feedback from our referral organisations has also been extremely positive.
|Anne-Marie Ttofias, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Watford and Bushey Community Mental Health Team, said of the project: “I work with clients who suffer from severe and enduring mental illness in the community. A client who has been significantly affected by mental health was referred to the Care Farm Project.... Not only have they remarked on their surprise and enthusiasm for the project but it has observably had a remarkable effect on their mental health. Their communication has greatly improved, becoming more clear and concise. Their confidence, which had been very low, has also improved through receiving and giving of feedback from staff and peers and from learning new skills. The environment and nature of the work has had what they refer to as a therapeutic effect on their mind which reduces their experience of stress and anxiety.”|
Funding and the future
We would like to thank all our funders for their supportwithout which we would be able to deliver this fabulous project. Our main supporter to date has been The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust, who helped us to get started, and other grateful support has come from The Christopher Laing Foundation, The Apthorp Charity, The Neighbourly Charitable Trust, The Hertfordshire Community Foundation, the Coutts Charitable Trust, The Shanly Foundation and the Margery Gladys Grimes Trust.
|Jane Young, Director of The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust said this about the project: "The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust has been supporting the Care Farm Project from its early days. We have been so impressed with the impact of the project on the clients who clearly benefit hugely from the opportunities they are given to get involved with the farm and all its activities, and who are able to take on real responsibility, often for the first time. Those running the courses help the clients to develop and grow so that their outlook and prospects are significantly enhanced. It has been a privilege to be able to support this work and we really hope it goes on to attract additional funders so that more people can benefit.”|
The project is going from strength to strength and is really making a difference to the participants that access it. We hope to be able to continue delivering more sessions year on year, helping many more vulnerable individuals to engage with society and regain self esteem and confidence.
For more information on the Care Farm Project or if you would like to help us fund future projects, please telephone 01707 666039 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.