A group of young people from St George’s school in west London went for a 5 day stay at Jamie’s Farm in Box, Wiltshire. Most of them had never left London before, and they were specifically chosen because the staff at their school felt that they would benefit the most from the ‘ecotherapy’ experience

Jamie’s Farm is an organisation that focuses on helping troubled and vulnerable children who do not fully engage with their education. Inner City kids are invited to stay at Jamie’s Farm and experience a unique combination of farming, family, and therapy. The space and the change of scenery are thought to give the children some time to reflect and help them with their self-esteem as they uncover their ability to do different things.

Jamie Feilden, one of the founders of Jamie’s Farm, taught History at Haling Manor School in Croydon so had first-hand experience dealing with difficult inner city kids. He grew up on a farm and wanted to share the same experiences he had; taking these underprivileged and challenged pupils out of their natural habitat so that they could experience new things, and see how the countryside would affect the kids’ behaviour at school. His mother, Tish Feilden was behind the project straight away and is the farm’s resident psychotherapist, with over 35 years experience of working with children and young people.

There’s the obvious daily farm work that needs to be completed, this helps instill a sense of responsibility in the children, making them aware that their actions have consequences, and that sometimes other things rely on them, so being consistent and responsible is key. It’s also quite fun for them to feed the animals, muck out the stables, carry the hay, etc. Between helping out on the farm they will also take part in group sessions with the farm psychotherapist (Tish) who teaches them useful tools for calming down, or for dealing with difficult situations. Tish shows the kids how to take part in “horse-whispering”; these sessions serve more as a one-to-one talk, using one of the farm horses as a tool to get the kids to open up. Tish uses the horse as a catalyst to allow the children to talk about their past experiences. The positive aspects of such activities are shown as Aaron, 12, said, “I feel as though she [the horse] is calm and I’m calm and she’s focusing on me. I had to work out how to speak really calmly to make her do what I wanted.” A lot of the pupils liked the fact that “you can find your own place, you can express yourself,” as Hasan said whilst describing how he felt about the farm.

Phones and sweets are banned, as part of the focus on creating a calm, supportive atmosphere and reducing over-stimulation. The accompanying teachers are also encouraged to form closer bonds with the kids and to observe the attentive way that the farm’s staff interact with the young people, and the tools that they use to get the behaviour they want.

Since 2006, an estimated 700 children have attended these 5 day getaway visits, bringing the farm’s annual turnover to around £400,000. Whilst the charity is profitable it still needs the help of financial donations. John and Caroline Nash’s charity Future supports Jamie’s Farm as one of their nominated charities helping inner city children.

David Chantler, head of West Mercia probation trust, spoke about the benefit of taking people away from their problem environments “you’re being given a chance to work in a community and empower yourself and strengthen your identity.” Removing the child from their usual chaotic lifestyle and into a far more therapeutic environment helps provide the space they need to work on their issues, or just to get respite.