If you have been following our recent podcast series, you will know we haven’t yet shared the next instalment in our series ‘Behind the headlines’. We want to get it right and allow the time for more young people to share their views on their hope and solutions about the growing issue of serious youth violence. Please bear with us and watch this space. We have been humbled and inspired by what young people have chosen to share via these podcasts, and are collating their input for the next one. In the meantime, here we share a blog, kindly written for us by one of our residential volunteers. Every week, across our farms, residential volunteers generously commit a whole week to Jamie’s Farm to support a group through the 5-day residential. This commitment is important to ensure consistency for our Jamie’s Farmers and here, one volunteer shares how it went and how the week challenged her perspective.
As I drove through the Wiltshire countryside, I was probably thinking similar thoughts to the young people who would join us a few hours later; have I packed the right stuff? Where are all the buildings? And what earth is the next week going to have in store? Reader, please note that I am not a teacher or supporter worker. My ‘experience’ is having nieces and nephews.
I live next door to one or the largest ‘roughest’ estates in London. Yet, in the three years of living in this area I have felt more community spirit here than in my spacious, quiet road in Highbury. This really challenged my idea of ‘good areas’ and ‘bad areas’ or ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’.
I wanted to volunteer at Jamie’s Farm because I knew some of the young people living on my estate would probably need a similar programme. I was fed up of feeling like there was nothing I could do to reduce the violence and knife crime in Hackney or to make young people’s life chances better. I felt I wasn’t contributing enough to my local issues and I was driven to volunteer by the belief that all young people deserve an opportunity to do their best. Children are referred by schools to Jamie’s Farm for a number of reasons – some children are incredibly shy, lacking in self-esteem and need a week built around nurture and growing confidence. Others are referred for poor behaviour – often those who are disruptive at school, regularly sent out of class for challenging behaviour and are at risk of being excluded. The latter was the case for the week I was here.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The issues young people face has changed a lot since I was at school (not that long ago, but long enough) and teenagers can be intimidating. I have been mugged twice in London by ‘young people’ and I knew that my middle-class twang could potentially be misconstrued as very out of touch.
I needn’t have worried, in fact I was proven wrong a few times during the week. The group were lovely, I was not once intimidated. Being middle class made absolutely no difference to the experience. I learnt quite quickly that if you are authentic the young people will engage with you. I was reminded of Jo Cox’s quote ‘we have far more in common than that divides us.’
During the week the young people made me laugh a lot. I loved hearing their views, I loved watching them interact as a group. They danced around the kitchen, they sang their favourite songs and joked around whilst playing football. They were just as young people should be; inquisitive, cheeky and fun.
I saw Jamie’s Farm ethos everywhere I looked. All day the young people were stretched out of their comfort zone, but always supported to succeed. By breakfast we had already achieved so much, and you could tell that they were proud. After all, it is no easy task to clear out poo from five pigpens all before a bowl of porridge.
I saw the emotional intelligence of the young people improve throughout the week. Twice daily check-ins provided a moment of reflection and a chance for the young people to be honest about how they were feeling and to praise their peers. Many of the young people around the table became more comfortable with the check-ins as the week progressed and offered increasingly thoughtful shout outs. I really enjoyed those moments around the table.
I saw the staff ‘drown the young people in positivity’ always thinking about what had gone well through the day. Cheering the young people on, helping them when they were a little homesick and championing their efforts. I was in awe of the way this overflowed from all of them.
I saw opportunities for reflection and contemplation. Whether that was simply going on the evening walk, and talking about the struggles of the day, or the reflective questions which were added to the check-ins. The group were encouraged to really consider their time on the farm and what it meant for them.
I saw how Jamie’s Farm created a family atmosphere. Eating around the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Removing phones to encourage conversation and playing games in the evening. This was matched with a relaxed and caring atmosphere, with staff and teachers regularly checking in with the group.
The week at Jamie’s farm entrenched a few ideas within me; young people – children – are inherently good people. They need positivity, good role models and care to succeed. You cannot expect a child who does not have those elements to perform in the same way as a child who does. Young people have the capacity and eagerness to change, sometimes we are too quick to give labels to young people, and they struggle to break free of these. Jamie’s Farm freed them from the labels and stereotypes and gave them the opportunity to be someone else – if they wanted to be.
These young people live in our communities, we should all be responsible for them. They are our future, and if we leave them behind, we ignore their potential and condemn them to unnecessary hardship. You rarely hear young people being asked their views on the issues impacting them, they need to be talked too, not merely discussed.
I drove home on the Friday, I’ll admit, with a little tear in my eye. I thought about every single one of the young people I met. I thought about how brilliant they all were. I thought about the fact that each one had been on their own little journey over the week. I laughed at all the amazing memories I created and promised to do more volunteering with Jamie’s Farm as soon as I could. It would be amiss of me to not encourage you to volunteer or to find some spare change to donate – Jamie’s Farm deserve every penny.
Written by Alison Stiby
Residential volunteer at Jamie’s Farm, Spring 2019