I look forward to Fridays. Each week I set off, after school drop-off, to the City with my old black lab where I help out as a volunteer at Jamie’s Farm. I catch the train with hundreds of commuters and arrive at bustling Waterloo. Whilst they head off to a long day at their desks in many of the high-rise office blocks, I venture off the beaten track to somewhere rather unusual and unexpected… With the London Eye standing proud in the distance, I make my way to an urban farm, a transformed piece of wasteland just a stone’s throw away from the noise and hub-bub of Waterloo. The noise lessens as I pass through Lower Marsh with its many shops and cafes, and after emerging from a cold, dark and dreary tunnel my spirits lift as I stumble across this hidden gem: Oasis Farm.
This half-acre strip of wasteland has been cleverly transformed into an area of peace and tranquillity, where nature and animals can truly flourish in the heart of the city. From the moment you walk through the gates something tells you that this place is special. An urban retreat – a respite from it all! It feels safe and secure. Lambs are bleating, chickens are clucking, pigs are snorting and best of all the birds are singing!
There is greenery all around. Straw bales, buckets, compost pens. Raised planters with runner beans and pea shoots, poly-tunnels nursing baby shoots and seeds. A large wooden shelter is at the rear of the farm housing the kitchen, where food is made with fresh herbs and vegetables from the farm. Yes, food coming straight from the kitchen garden to our plates? It doesn’t get better than that! There is some noise – a police siren, a man swearing in the adjacent street and the clanging sound of builders. A beautiful wooden barn is being carefully constructed to provide further space to facilitate activities for the children and to hopefully attract the local community.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering and working along-side school children from South East London and Kent. It has been a humbling experience but, at the same time, a rewarding one knowing that the few hours I can spare on a Friday really can make a difference to some of these young, disadvantaged children.
Jamie’s Farm educational programme of Farming, Family & Therapy is an amazing therapeutic tool, teaching children to work with set tasks around food and animals in a beautiful urban setting. The outdoor space at Oasis Farm provides children with a safe and secure setting to take on challenges and learn life skills without even realising it!
The brief is to help tackle challenging behaviour, engage children through fun but meaningful activities and help improve their self-esteem by achieving positive outcomes, through gentle guidance and kindness. Most of the children who visit, I discover, are having problems either at school or at home. They find it hard to engage with other children, join in at class and display constant disruptive and challenging behaviour.
As a mother, I am used to similar behaviour as our children go through various stages in life, pushing us parents to the edge at times. So why would I want to leave challenging situations at home to help out at the farm?
The answer is clear: the hope that something undertaken, something said, may be taken home or to school to help them achieve success in areas where they may currently be failing. My own experience working with these children shows that they are learning and listening even when we think they are not! What I am helping to implement teaches children different ways to interact and to think about a situation, without always resorting to being rude and disruptive.
The kids are not told off, we do not shout at them! Children are encouraged continuously to respect the property, the animals and the plants and herbs, which provide so much nourishment for everyone. In most cases, whilst I have been working at the farm I have seen a gradual improvement over the course of the day.
Over the last few weeks the theme has been about nurturing the plants and animals on the farm. And, in turn, how important it is to nurture ourselves. We’ve been cooking healthy vegetable pasta bakes in the kitchen, making garlic bread, three bean salads, and slicing avocados! It is hard to believe that some kids really think that milk comes from a supermarket and an avocado comes from outer space.
I asked a wonderful young lady by the name of Izzy, whether she’d be prepared to try a slice before saying she didn’t like it? She of course said “Errrrr yuk, no way!” However, I explained that how could she be in a position to say she didn’t like something if she hadn’t even tried it. So with some gentle persuasion, Izzy sampled the avocado. However, disgusted with its texture she did in the end spit it out! She said, “I can’t believe I just did that! I am not normally one for trying new things and I am so pleased I did!”
Another young man, Cameron was so proud that he managed to construct Energy Balls – a delicious date and nut treat (without any sugar). He took great pride in making the balls all of equal size before coating them in desiccated coconut. I asked the children how they thought we could decorate the plate and one of them came up with the idea of picking some fresh mint from the garden to garnish and give colour to the dish.
My heart melted as I saw them walk proudly into the poly-tunnel to present their dishes to the rest of their school mates. These are the small achievements that make such a difference. Small steps, along with a gentle ‘pat on the back’ is all that is needed at times for these children to grow in confidence and go onto achieve in other tasks and in life!
Giving a little of my time, offering kindness and a few laughs is an amazing way to spend a day! It brings extra meaning to my life and more importantly it gives hope and courage to the children who are blessed enough to experience Jamie’s Farm!
Written by the lovely Michele Lawrence who volunteers at our Waterloo Farm every Friday, and has spent time volunteering at our residential farm in Bath. Michelle is also helping to organise “A Night on Baker Street” in aid of Jamie’s Farm on Friday 22nd September 2017 – for more information about this amazing event, please get in touch with Jill@jamiesfarm.org.uk
You can read more about Oasis Farm Waterloo in The Guardian here: Those pigs in Westminster: Inside London’s most central urban farm
For more information about Jamie’s Farm at Waterloo or to volunteer please get in touch with Jenna@jamiesfarm.org.uk