I do, I understand: living well at Jamie’s Farm
“Mental health problems cause distress to individuals and those who care for them. The Prime Minister has said that mental health is one of the ‘greatest social challenges of our time’. Overall, it is estimated that one in ten children and young people have a diagnosable mental disorder – the equivalent of three pupils in every classroom across the country.” This is the opening paragraph to the Health in Schools and Colleges Summary report August 2017.*
This publication goes on to detail much of the laudable work being done in our schools to support the most vulnerable young people, along with some of the challenges faced and the keys to success.
But one statement in this research paper stands out, which is that “The majority (87%) of survey respondents reported [that they were] supporting pupils with identified mental health needs. Less common were plans and policies about promoting positive mental health and wellbeing among all pupils, though more than half (58%) of respondents did report having such a policy.”
Whilst we ensure every child spending time with us has the chance to talk to our Therapy Co-ordinators, Jamie’s Farm does not serve as a replacement for the mental health services and professionals required when a young person has significant mental health needs and indeed, we recognise there are times when we are not the right setting for someone who is this vulnerable. But approximately 30% of the young people who arrive at Jamie’s Farm do so with concerns from school around their mental wellbeing. We would argue that for many of the remaining 70% who may arrive with concerns around behaviour or engagement with school, poor wellbeing and self-esteem are profoundly effecting factors. So, supporting mental health is fundamental to our work and one of our greatest areas of success.
Could it be that letting them experience being well, rather than teaching them wellbeing, is the key to this success?
In feedback, young people often highlight their use of time and the jobs we have expected them to do. We hear repeatedly how good it has felt to be busy and to feel tired – they are outside for the majority of their day. We walk for a minimum of one and a half hours a day and are consistently engaged in the “jobs” that make up every-day farm life, such as cooking, cleaning and animal care. We also hear about the enormous sense of satisfaction young people are surprised to find in completing a task which they initially rejected, such as mucking out the pigs. We put a lot of thought into making the young people aware of the team effort involved in these jobs. We encourage young people to help each other and praise their bravery when they step up to a challenge they really want to turn away from. We are clear in explaining that these jobs need to be done; it is our responsibility to provide the people and animals in our care with food and clean living quarters. In doing all this we give young people responsibility and we also reframe these “jobs” as acts of care. We then encourage them to recognise this in their “Shout Outs” to each other.
Thus, at Jamie’s Farm, young people get to experience that happiness is not necessarily about recreation and pleasure-seeking but about how we approach the tasks in front of us – whatever that may be.
That is not to say that recreation and free time doesn’t happen. It occurs in the shape of board, card and team games or from a quiet movie when exhaustion is really kicking in and physical cosiness is required. In these moments we allow our young people to be children. We provide them with a feeling of being warm and safe, and to reap all the benefits of social interaction, resilience, emotional engagement and creativity so recognised in Play for the Early Years** but so swiftly forgotten.
Another aspect of mental wellness we allow young people to experience is in extended and sincere communication. “Meetings” happen twice daily and in them every young person has a voice, every young person is encouraged to be honest and reflective and every young person has to listen. Sometimes these meetings can be really tough – the resistance can be palpable – but by modelling this type of communication, by encouraging Shout Outs where young people get positive recognition from each other, they are a profoundly powerful part of the week. It is because of meetings that teachers can feedback comments like: “R— came to Jamie’s Farm very shy, unable to speak in big groups and with a bad stammer when he spoke. During the week R—‘s confidence has improved unbelievably. He has come out of his shell, and has grown every day in his ability to share his thoughts and feelings about his time on the farm with the group. It’s been amazing and wonderful to see and be part of.”
So, Jamie’s Farm allows young people to follow the 5 steps recommended to support mental wellbeing***: to connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give. What is vital is that we do not present these steps as intellectual concepts but that we take our young people on an experiential journey**** of wellbeing. First, they have the concrete experience of taking care of their mental wellbeing. Then we reflect on what it has felt like. Towards the end of their time with us they write postcards to themselves, to help them make sense of the experience and begin to conceptualise how this could continue outside of our unique environment.
At Jamie’s Farm we work hard to make sure our young people feel loved, trusted, interested and hopeful. Like many who work with young people, we accept them for who they are and try to give them a sense of self-acceptance and control. Our blessing is that our setting and programme of activities allows them to live out being well, to experience the physical events which promote these feelings. In giving them this concrete experience, this “doing”, we give them a concrete understanding of being mentally well. Perhaps in our success we demonstrate that, as well as caring for those with identified mental health needs, it is vital we start looking after everyone’s mental health in the same way we do physical health – not waiting until something goes wrong, and not just talking about it, but giving time and energy into the concrete actions that keep us mentally well.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. As the susceptibility to mental illness increases so must our awareness of and investment in the activities that embed mental health. To plagiarise Derek Bok’s words – if you think [wellbeing] education is expensive, try [the personal, social and financial cost of wellbeing] ignorance.
Written by Ruth Young, Education Manager at Jamie’s Farm Monmouth
Bio: Ruth joined Jamie’s Farm in September 2017 to take on the role of Education Manager at the new Jamie’s Farm in Monmouth. Before working for Jamie’s Farm Ruth has worked at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts and initiated the Festival’s programme for families and young people. Inspired by her observation of the profound relationships that could be formed when adults and young people shared stories, Ruth trained as a teacher in 2008 and worked as a secondary school English teacher for a number of years. In 2014, Ruth became the Vice-Principal at the Steiner Academy Hereford – a state-funded school striving to hold to an ethos which nurtures and celebrates the child whilst ensuring an education which meets the demands of the 21st century. It is Ruth’s belief that self-esteem is key to success, and interactions with and within nature are key to self-esteem.
Jamie’s Farm is taking part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge to raise the funds to cover our therapeutic activities across all three farms – in Bath, Hereford and Monmouth.
We have been allocated £50,000 in matched funds that will be progressively unlocked by the amount we can raise between Tuesday 28th November and Tuesday 5th December. This means any donation made online during these 7 days, from £5 and up to £5,000, will be doubled. Please will you consider supporting Jamie’s Farm?
Thank you – The JF Team X
**** David A Kolb’s model of experiential learning