Tagged / young people

How farms can help improve the lives of disadvantaged young people

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A visiting farmer tends the animals. Future Roots, Author provided

By Dr Sarah Hambidge (Post-Doctoral Researcher), Bournemouth University.

A couple of years ago, I met Adam (not his real name) at a farm in Dorset. Adam was 14 and had been excluded from mainstream education due to behavioural difficulties and a disruptive home life. He had consequently become involved in regular underage drinking and antisocial behaviour. Adam was being exploited and groomed as a drug runner for a London drug gang infiltrating rural areas. He told me that he had been given a knife by gang members and encouraged to use it to protect himself if necessary against rival gangs or local drug dealers.

The farm where I met him is not a normal farm, but a social one, where the therapeutic use of farming practices and animal assisted therapy is used to provide health, social and educational care services for disadvantaged young people that have become disengaged with mainstream education. Stories such as Adam’s are growing increasingly familiar to staff at the farm he attended, who see other vulnerable young people referred to their service.

Learning new skills. Sarah Hambidge

Many of the young people living in rural Britain who are being exploited by these gangs are, like Adam, those who are disengaged with mainstream education and are at risk of becoming, or currently are, NEET (not in education, employment or training). There are 808,000 young people (aged 16-24) in the UK who are NEET.

Being NEET has a long-term impact on a young person’s life, leaving them vulnerable to substance misuse, offending behaviour, physical and mental health problems, academic underachievement and reduced employment. These young people are subsequently regarded as a concern to the police, health, education and social care professionals.

Yet current interventions are failing to reduce the number of young people becoming NEET. These interventions typically focus on providing the young person with vocational education, despite the fact that the most common vocational qualifications in the UK have very little or no relevance to the labour market.

Interventions that offer a restorative approach, with therapeutic support and a focus on learning, however, are acknowledged to be more successful.

Farm animal therapy. Sarah Hambridge

A green future

Earlier this year, the government launched a 25-year environment plan. The plan acknowledged the importance of connecting children and young people to nature through learning, as well as the benefits of a physical, hands-on experience as a pathway to good health and well-being. The government has pledged £10m to support local strategies which use the natural environment and has further committed to a national expansion of social farming by 2022. This will treble the number of available places to 1.3m per year for children and adults in England.

On social farms, health, social or specialist educational care services for vulnerable people are delivered through structured programmes of farming-related activities. Social farming is established in numerous European countries. Norway currently operates 1,100 social farms, compared to 240 in the UK.

Taking a break on the farm. Sarah Hambidge

Young people participate in a variety of seasonal farming-related activities, including animal husbandry, crop and vegetable production and woodland management. Social farming has been found to have a positive impact on physical and mental health along with the opportunity to develop transferable skills, personal development, social inclusion and rehabilitation.

Social farming

When I met Adam, I was in the midst of a research project evaluating whether a year-long farming intervention can prevent disengaged young people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds becoming NEET. Participants typically attend a four-hour session once a week at the farm.

Future roots, the farm I researched, employs a mix of teachers, youth and social workers and therapists. It offers a different model of learning for those struggling in mainstream education. My research demonstrated that the use of the natural environment as a mechanism for change was effective in reducing the risk of becoming NEET.

The young people learn to care for a variety of animals. Sarah Hambidge

The young people I followed displayed a significant reduction in self-reported mental health risks and behavioural regulation difficulties; improved social relationships and coping; improved life and work skills; and re-engagement with learning. All of the young people were in employment or training six months after their time at the social farm finished.

Indeed, the social farm was the only place where Adam said he felt safe. He was able to develop a sense of belonging and trust which enabled him to talk about the difficulties he was experiencing in his life. Without the social farm intervention, staff said that Adam would likely have proceeded to harm himself or others. The farmer refers to the changes seen in the young people as a “chrysalis butterfly effect”: the positive transformation seen in these young people as they turn their lives around to look to the future are truly inspiring.


Dr Sarah Hambidge, Postdoctoral Researcher, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Seen But Seldom Heard

Young people working to change perceptions of disability through poetry and performance

A collaboration between the Media School (Dr Caroline Hodges), the School of Health and Social Care (Wendy Cutts & Dr Lee-Ann Fenge) and Victoria Education Centre, Poole.

In February of this year, we were awarded funding from the BU Fusion Fund to begin work on the ‘Seen But Seldom Heard’ project. ‘Seen but Seldom Heard’ is an innovative ‘arts activism’ project through which young people living with a physical disability (aged 14-19 years) can engage in creative activities designed to encourage them to reflect on their lived experiences and to empower them to challenge societal perceptions of disability through poetry and performance. The performance poetry work which has been supported by professional poets, Liv Torc and Jonny Fluffypunk, also offers the group of budding young poets a ‘voice’ to participate in conversations regarding policies and practices which affect them.

The project has so far resulted in a series of co-produced performances including a Paralympics venue in Weymouth as part of the Cultural Olympiad supporting headline performance poet, John Hegley, and The Bridport Open Book Festival, the largest performance poetry event in the country. The performances were an important way to engage with the general public and positively influence perceptions of disability and we hope to stage similar events during 2013. We have also produced a book of the group’s poetry (the sale of which has paid for an additional 2 poetry workshops at the school) and a full-length documentary will be premiered at BU on the afternoon of December 7th as part of Disability History Month.

There have been a number of beneficiaries from the work. First and foremost the young people who have taken part, together with their peer group at Victoria Education Centre. The project has had such a profound impact upon pupils and staff that the school is raising funds for a ‘poet in residence’ to support future performance poetry activity. In direct response to posting a ‘taster’ of the Seen But Seldom Heard documentary on YouTube (attracting 1,500 views to date from as far afield as Australia, the US and South America), we have received emails and comments from others with direct experience of disability, disability activists, educationalists and care providers thanking and encouraging the young poets and the project team for providing aspiration and positive role models.

In the next phase of the project, which we hope to commence as soon as funding is secured, we also plan to develop a ‘live schools tour’ and audio-visual educational package for use in secondary schools and youth clubs to raise awareness amongst young people of what it is like to live with a physical disability. In addition to public engagement and education activity, we are also disseminating the project outcomes and methodology through seminars and conference presentations during 2013 and journal articles.

A short preview to the full-length documentary can be viewed at: http://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/seen-but-seldom-heard/2012/09/25/documentary-taster/

For more information on the December 7th film screening and to confirm your attendance please visit: 

http://studentportal.bournemouth.ac.uk/news/local-assets/events/Disability%20History%20Month%202012.pdf

Samples of the group’s poetry can be found at: http://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/seen-but-seldom-heard

EU Funding for ‘Social Experiments’ (!)

Funding is available under the Progress 2011 theme. Your proposal must contribute to developing and testing socially innovative approaches to policy priorities in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Open Method of Coordination on social protection and social inclusion. To be selected under this call, projects should focus on either of the following selected themes, keeping in mind in all cases the gender dimension of the issue:
• Social inclusion of vulnerable groups (such as Roma people, migrants and their descendants, homeless and young people)
• Quality of childcare services (this has great impacts on child well-being, but also on gender equality, poverty in jobless households, employment rates, birth rates and on long term sustainable development by supporting the development of human potential)
• Active and healthy ageing (this depends on various factors, such as life habits, working conditions or urban policies and represents a major condition in order to extend working lives and to reduce social protection expenditures)
• Transition from education to work for the youth (as only a multidimensional policy approach combining actions on the education framework, the labour market, families can be successful)
Deadlines: 15.12.11 and 30.03.12

EU Social Sciences and Humanities funding available

European instrument for democracy and human rights – enhancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms where they are most at risk and supporting human rights defenders: proposals should explore the enhancment,  respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and situations where they are most at risk and where human rights defenders and civil society organisations work under severe constraints and are most under pressure. Grants are worth between €150,000 and €2m. Closing date: 1 August 2011.

European instrument for democracy and human rights restricted call for proposals: proposals should explore contributions to the development and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Grants are worth between €200,000 and €1.5m. Closing date: 1 August 2011.

European Policy Network on the Education of Children and Young People with a Migrant Background: proposals should address the issues raised by the November 2009 Council conclusions on the education of children from a migrant background and stimulate high-level cooperation between Member State policy makers responsible for social inclusion through education, including cooperation between authorities in the countries of origin and host countries. The network should actively stimulate transnational cooperation primarily at governmental level, but also at the level of experts and practitioners. Grants are worth  €500,000. Closing date: 14 October 2011.