We’ve seen firsthand the impact of lockdown and COVID restrictions on young people trying to build a new life in the UK. The particular context of displacement means many have been disproportionately affected by the isolation and the lack of routine, exercise and meaningful face-to-face interactions with their peers and adults. Like most organisations working in this field, we have been especially concerned about increased reliance on online sources, and the long term impact on mental health of prolonged uncertainty and lack of hope.
The message from the team at Jamie’s Farm from the outset was that whatever happened, everyone would have a wonderful time. And yet, watching our group get off the coach on the first morning, bleary from the early start and hesitant about why they were there, we couldn’t be entirely sure it would be that easy. However, the team at Lewes are so adept at working with groups from all walks of life that camaraderie was built up in an instant and the sense of belonging to the team was embraced throughout. From the word go, there was no feeling of “them and us”, it was just “us”
We’ve already seen from our summer camps at Trill the many benefits life on a farm can bring. The chance to be fully occupied for an entire day, in a range of tasks, each one meaningful and useful to the farm; to be in the fresh air and with friends around you; and to share a purpose and feeling of achievement at the end - all of this stands in real contrast to life of remote learning alone in lockdown.
The check-in sessions at the beginning and end of each day means that everyone has the chance for their voice to be heard. And it was here that we could really see the change in the confidence of our group; those who had shied away from having to speak out in English to a group of people they didn’t know on the first day, happily gave feedback on the last. The boost to self-esteem around the group by three days of working and mucking about together stood out to everyone.
And it wasn’t all physical work out in the elements. Liz ran songwriting and guitar workshops, focusing on themes of finding your feet in a new home. Torrential rain one afternoon meant that farm jobs turned into Barn Olympics. Welly wanging, wheelbarrow racing and egg-and-spoon drove competitiveness and hilarity skywards, and B told me that it was the first time in his life he had been able to play. “Big enjoy!” he grinned, before sacking me from his egg-and-spoon team for being slow, and dropping eggs. On the final day, a casual kickabout turned into a fully competitive game of welly football in the barn, with Bob the collie playing on both sides and not adhering to any rules. Sitting around the fire with hot chocolates after the game, laughing and shouting about who hadn’t won, it struck us that it couldn’t have been more different from the first morning when they all squatted quietly on the hay bales.
Jamie’s Farm promises individualised therapeutic support, particularly to address the many anxieties triggered by the pandemic, via a busy routine of purposeful activities. It promises to re-instil good habits, build teamwork and friendships, supply plenty of good food and a whole lot of fun, and it delivers on everything. For us, this meant quite simply, that on the final day nobody wanted to leave, and this is probably the very best accolade of all.
Thank you to everyone at Jamie’s - Clare, Tim, Ed, Andi, Adele, Liz and Bob, we are delighted to have found you and will not be letting you go. Thank you to Lisa and Anna at Surrey Virtual School for their invaluable support in making sure this could happen in the first place, and for driving around Surrey at the crack of dawn making sure everyone got to the farm. And of course, to all our participants for their energy, humour, enthusiasm and hard work over the three days - you were all a joy to be with.