As we near our twelfth year of Jamie’s Farm and consider expansion onto not three but four different farms, we have been reflecting on the very beginnings of Jamie’s Farm. Over the course of this time we have grown from a few experimental groups to opening our third fully operational farm in October 2017. One of the most commonly asked questions here at Jamie’s Farm is how to start up a social enterprise, and how to take an idea into something real and something sustainable. So here it is, a personal recollection of the trials and tribulations of the first couple of years at Jamie’s Farm, from our first employee.
It all began for me after a day’s riding with Tish, Jamie’s mum. We were having coffee and a chat in the kitchen when Jamie arrived, very excited, because he had persuaded a fellow teacher from the school where they both taught, Haling Manor School in Croydon, to bring a group of pupils to stay at Tish’s home during half term.
But I’m getting ahead of myself….
Earlier that year Jamie was thinking about a proposal he was writing on Social Enterprise as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme. He came home every weekend during the lambing season and would drive back to London early on a Monday morning, but this Monday was different….
He’d had the idea to take some lambs back with him to school. So, he set it up with the school and then loaded up the Land Rover and trailer with the chosen lambs, feed, water, bedding, hurdles (joined together to make a pen) and arrived at the school unannounced to the children, and proceeded to create a small sheep sanctuary in the corner of the playground. He then waited to see what the reaction would be…
Curiosity, first and foremost… The children were amazed and wanted to know what was going on. The connection was there in an instant. Despite the difficulties to engage some young people in the classroom and to catch their imagination and attention, here in one moment, Jamie had all the attention he could hope for.
Jamie knew then, that he was on the right track with his proposal but, more than that, he realised that this was a way to show the children how he had grown up, looking after animals, respecting and nurturing them and how it built his own confidence and self esteem. The spark of an idea was born: to bring groups down to his home and let them benefit from the challenges and rewards of farming life.
The first group arrived … with a lot of thought (Including a trip to Tesco with Jamie, a large size trolley, and no concept of how to cater for 12 children) but almost no framework except that we all wanted them to have a wonderful experience from their stay.
Jamie introduced them to farming, working up in the woods, cleaning out pigsties back at the farm, preparing, planting and picking vegetables and fruit. Our meals were simple and we tried to keep things recognisable for all the children so they could keep their strength up. Tish talked to them about their lives and expectations of themselves, which was a new experience for many of them, and slowly and surely they began to trust Tish, and over the days it was like opening a window to let a fresh breeze in. They began to see themselves differently, and with farming, food and friendship, went home with new ideas bubbling in their heads.
I remember so many of our early visitors: like Jack, who really didn’t like any of the food, was withdrawn and unable to make friends. However, on Wednesday morning he came in the kitchen to help me make flapjacks, and that was it! He loved them, he loved making them and best of all, when the others came in hungry from activities, the first question was: “Has Jack made his flapjacks?” He felt at home and validated and he relaxed on the farm – it helped that for the rest of the week he was known as “Flap Jack.” Or another young man who really had no skills and had been in a lot of trouble both at school and on the farm, until Jamie put him in charge of an enormous grass strimmer and clearing a bank of nettles (some might comment that this was quite a surprising choice of activity for an angry young man) but it went extremely well and later he managed to explain that it had made him feel “powerful and peaceful all at the same time” which at that point was about the first words he had uttered.
I can’t begin to convey how exciting it was to be a tiny part of this fledgling idea. I was happy to be in the kitchen, getting lunch or dinner ready and often had helpers arrive, needing a break from the outside jobs, who were happy to come and help chop, or stir, or lay a table and have a chat.
It goes without saying that I have learnt so much from Jamie’s Farm and love my continued involvement with them all these years later. It gives me great pleasure to know that from that just like that first ever group, more than 900 young people benefit from their time at Jamie’s Farm each year, and that number is only set to increase. Bring on the next 11 years!
Written by Charlotte Nicholson
Charlotte is our stupendous chef who ensures that all children get involved with the cooking and are well catered for. Charlotte ensures our food is fresh and locally sourced. Her hobbies include dog training (something very much encouraged at our Hill House Farm). She was also Jamie’s Farm’s first ever employee all those years ago.