Lizzie came to Jamie’s Farm at a low ebb. She had been living in a car with her Mum for six months, and her school was worried that she had begun to prostitute herself to buy drugs. Her best friend in school had already been excluded and Lizzie was on her final warning. One teacher had developed a strong enough relationship with Lizzie to suggest she might enjoy a chance to get away from troubles at home and school, and spend a week at Jamie’s Farm. The space might do her some good. The idea seemed to strike a chord with Lizzie, and for the months preceding the visit, she became ever more excited, even helping the teacher to fundraise in order to make the trip a reality.
From the outset, Lizzie was the leader of the group, enthusiastically getting stuck in to every farm activity, and confidently motivating others to do the same. She was as at home mucking out the pig sheds as flipping pancakes in the kitchen. In our daily check-ins, Lizzie always gave herself the highest rating out of ten for how she was feeling: her positivity was infectious, and all the other young people fed from it. As she said, “I love it. Jamie’s Farm is teaching me that I can do things, that I can do things well, and that I can enjoy work. I love how I get along with people here.”
Towards the end of the week, Lizzie began to demonstrate some real anxiety about going back home. She began exhibiting the characteristics of someone wishing to sabotage the experience, so that the transition back home would not be so painful. Jamie’s Farm staff worked to allow her to see this for what it was. We wanted to make it clear to her that we would remember Lizzie for the bright, sunny, intelligent young person that she was; to enable her to trust that though she could push the boundaries, nothing would stop her from being lovable. With immense courage, Lizzie turned a corner. Apologising for some of her negative behaviour, she enjoyed a fantastic final day on the Farm and left committing herself to working with adults around her in school to tackle her challenges.
Four months on, Lizzie has already achieved two GCSEs and is in the midst of revising for four more. Her teachers have been extremely impressed: from only needing to attend school for half-days, she has committed to coming in for full days and seeking out members of staff to gain extra support. She has submitted applications for two colleges, and has become an ambassador for the SEN unit in school. During our follow-up meeting, Lizzie reiterated her gratitude: “It gave me the chance to realise what I wanted to get out of life, and the confidence to know I could get there. I could only do that away from home. I just loved the animals and staff and everyone who makes it such a great place.”
“I love it. Jamie’s Farm is teaching me that I can do things, that I can do things well, and that I can enjoy work. I love how I get along with people here.”
In September, 2013, we welcomed a fifteen year old boy called Callum to the Farm.
Callum was based in a Pupil Referral Unit in West London. The school had previously brought pupils alongside another two schools, but recognised the value of Jamie’s Farm to such a degree that they wished to bring a group purely from their own ranks. As the Lead Teacher of the trip said, ‘we have highly vulnerable and disaffected youngsters. To go on a residential requires us to have full faith in the quality of the provision these youngsters will get; with Jamie’s Farm, we knew we would receive expert care from high quality staff who go the extra mile to make students and staff feel welcomed, safe and happy in an alien environment.’
Callum was chosen for the trip in order that he gain a boost in his confidence, and to provide him with an opportunity to see how capable and productive a young man he could be. Growing up in a family where drug abuse was rife, and suffering the damage that Foetal Alcohol and Drug Syndrome caused, Callum had been permanently excluded from his previous school for persistent disruptive behaviour. Though the quality of education provision at the PRU had improved considerably, a previously chaotic environment forced Callum to grow a thick and prickly outer shell. This defence mechanism allowed him to moderate the effects of the occasional cruelty of other pupils regarding his abnormally small size, but meant he was withdrawn and regularly very difficult to teach. He would also occasionally react to small teasing with sudden flashes of violence
On the Farm, Callum initially began guarded about the experience. Through the first day, he was making sense of the new environment and working out whether he could trust the adults around him. However, gradually, through the Farm’s intensive and engaging sequence of activities, Callum’s defences broke down. In particular, he thrived during the horse whispering session, where he was required to open up and confidently share his inner strength with a horse in order to form a relationship with him. When this open demeanour was shown to have very positive effects on the demeanour of the horse, then Callum was encouraged to act more in this way in wider social situations. Furthermore Callum worked closely with one of our members of staff to nurture a farrow of piglets whose mother had developed mastitis. Through regular care from first thing in the morning until last thing at night, he was able to nurse four of the pigs through the first week of their lives, and ensure their long-term survival. He named each of them after members of his family at home, and thrived with the sense of responsibility tending to the animals gave him.
When he returned to school, teachers who were overwhelmed with the transformation in confidence and attitude that Callum exhibited on the Farm worked hard to support him in making those changes last. He was encouraged to write to members of the Farm staff team and check on the progress of his piglets, and he created a wonderful display board in his form room. This served to remind him of the experience, and especially the commitment he made on the Farm for how he could improve back in school. The Lead Teacher has noted that, ‘since the Farm, Callum is altogether a different boy. He feels able to show some softer sides to his personality, and established relationships with adults that allow us to work with him productively. He is now on track to return to mainstream education at the end of this academic year – something that was quite unrealistic in September.’
“I loved the responsibilities I had on the Farm, and how there was always something to do. I enjoyed the fair way I was treated, and how everyone worked together to make the Farm work and look after the animals. I never thought I’d want to wake up in the middle of the night to look after some piglets, but I did, and it made me happy.”