Blog post by Rachael Frossell, Director of Stable and Wild
Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a week volunteering at a charity in Wiltshire called Jamie's Farm.
Jamie's Farm offer five day residential visits at their four farms across the country and day visits to a city farm in London.
The visiting children are usually from inner-city areas and for many children this will be their first visit to a working farm and sometimes the first opportunity that they have had to get up close to farm animals.
The purpose of my visit was to understand more about the way that the Jamie's Farm team work with young people and, in particular, how they measure the impact of their work.
At Stable and Wild we are always looking for ways to enrich the learning opportunities that we offer to young people and to observe the working practices of other professionals in similar provisions, to review best practice and ultimately support young people in the best way possible. In addition, we want to be able to assess our impact in a meaningful way, so that commissioners can be clear about what they can expect from us and the quality processes that we have in place to ensure young people do achieve their full potential from their time at Stable and Wild.
My week was full on, with a great bunch of young people from a school in Holland Park, London. Much like the young people who attend our own programmes there was a lot of excitement, combined with anxiety from being in an unfamiliar environment. Lots of holding of noses and complaining about the smell, but still a desire to get close to the animals and help out on the farm.
The environment that is offered at Jamie's Farm is one of a community; a family who share quality, uninterrupted time (all phones are handed over on Day One and not returned until the end of the week) and jobs that need doing to care for the animals are shared, including maintaining the environment and providing food for everyone.
This space felt emotionally safe from the start and reminded me of the warm clothes, hot drinks and breakfast and lunches that we provide to young people when they arrive. The importance of these simple acts of human kindness should not be underestimated in today's world, where many children have poor diets and nutrition and family budgets are increasingly squeezed.
Sharing the entire week living with the young people was both exhausting and exhilarating. Being able to observe instead of lead was a luxury I rarely get, and my own reflections on this point alone brought about some interesting personal development for me. To have the opportunity to share this experience with them and to see the rollercoasters of emotions, brought home how this experience was impacting them.
During my week I was fortunate to spend some time with Tish Fielden, the founder of Jamie's Farm (along with her son Jamie). A truly inspirational lady and with a passion to improve life chances for young people at her core. It was evident to see that her conviction and drive were still so strong and passionate - even with four farms behind them and thousands of young people having come through their farm gates. It was exciting to hear of their plans for scaling and to compare how their plans for growth mirrored our own ambitions, to share this essential lifeline for young people and to make it more widely available.
I had read Tish’s book - Creating Change for Vulnerable Teens - prior to my visit and would recommend it to any parent or adult with teenagers in their lives.
It provides a beautifully written and relatable account of the challenges that young people face in society today and how social attitudes and environments are exacerbating these problems. Through working with young people on the farm, it presents life through a different lens and offers guidance for adults and parents on how we can build children’s confidence and sense of self belief to help them to become more resilient and aspirational. It's a compelling read and well worth the time.
Having returned and had the time to process so much activity over the week, I have a great admiration for the Jamie's Farm team and their collective diversity and unity too, which serves to make them great role models for young people. Their “kindness and respect first" policy was at times disarming for the young people who were constantly trying to push boundaries.
Their clarity around impact and the support they offer to schools before and after young people attend is something that helps to deepen the impact of their work further.
Learning from them, how they extract information on social and emotional progression over time is an area where I know we can develop our own work further and being able to hear first hand from Chloe (Head of Impact) about their journey to this point, will prevent us from having to re-invent the wheel too many times I hope!
It was also good to hear from Chloe that the work we already do collecting qualitative data is good and our learners voice, case studies, session reflections and weekly session notes linked to learning outcomes is comprehensive and important.
I would like to thank everyone at Jamie's Farm for making me so welcome. I would thoroughly recommend volunteering at a provision like this for anyone - you will learn a lot about young people and the benefits that an experience has for them, but you will also learn a lot about yourself, and although the rewards are non- financial, they are still there and just as valuable.
Watch this space for how we start to publish more detail about how the work at Stable and Wild can clearly demonstrate clarity and meaningful impact, making a difference to young peoples' futures and life chances.
For more details of Jamie's Farm visit https://jamiesfarm.org.uk