August 2, 2018 by Mike Madden
This article was originally published in the High Peak Review.
Times can be tough in the farming community, and many farms are diversifying, at least in part, to other activities. One of the more innovative schemes is Care Farming, a practice that is becoming much more widespread. Care Farming aims to support health, social or educational care services for individuals and particularly vulnerable groups of people, including those with mental health problems, learning disabilities or a history of addiction, by providing a supervised, structured, programme of farming related and countryside activities.
Kevin Thomson and Chris Shaw-Thomson, from Beardwood Farm in Furness Vale, have embraced the concept of Care Farming by creating the Beardwood Natural Living Project. Beardwood is run with sustainability and self-sufficiency high on the list of priorities, as Chris explained. “We work with the seasons and encourage a diversity of wildlife on the farm. We still have sheep, pigs, geese and hens around the place, but it is now only a part time farm.” Chris is a registered healthcare professional, whilst Kevin is a Countryside Ranger. They both have Countryside Management degrees and feel that the partnership is well equipped to provide Care Farming services. “Together we use all of the skills that we have acquired to advocate what we like to call our ‘Natural Health Service’, and collectively we can provide expertise in healthcare provision, community care, countryside management & conservation, farming and environmental education.”
The project got under way in October 2011 almost by accident, when a social worker friend asked the Thomsons if they could provide a placement for one of her service users. This was a great success and encouraged them to take the project forward. They then discovered the Farming Life Centre at Blackwell, which is a charity set up to promote the wellbeing of farmers in the Peak District, and the charity was in the process of setting up the Derbyshire Care Farming Network, to help farmers who wanted to diversify into Care Farming.
The Farming Life Centre, in partnership with ‘Growing Rural Enterprise’, a rural business training and support service, set up the Derbyshire WELLIES project funded by the Lottery Grants Scheme ‘Awards For All’ fund. The aptly named WELLIES project (Well being, Education, Learning, Laughter, Inspiration, Environment, Skills) offered training to prospective Care Farmers which covered areas such as business management, health and safety, funding and marketing. This culminated in activity days for potential service users at several Derbyshire farms, including Beardwood that hosted two of the days. The events were well attended and a variety of skills were offered, including dry stone walling, bushcraft, survival skills, habitat management, bird box construction and many more. The WELLIES project gave out evaluation forms to the service users, with very encouraging results. “Fun and lots of laughter”, “A greater sense of self worth”, “Trying new things and laughing at oneself when things didn’t go too well”, and “To do things differently, for example to think more about alternatives to supermarkets” are just some of the many varied and positive comments received. A CD featuring interviews with Care Farmers and participants of the project is available to download from the Farming Life Centre website.
More recently, Kevin and Chris have been working with local schools to provide facilities for outdoor learning, and utilising Beardwood’s woodland for Forest Schools activities. Buxworth school visited recently, and were given a day of bushcraft, firefighting, forest crafts, making nettle rope and outdoor cooking. With all of the additional activity it is important that the business side is properly established. “We are now registered as a Community Interest Company,” explained Chris. “This is a Social Enterprise which ensures that any profits are invested into the business to improve facilities for our service users. It is a business run with the local community in mind, and as such we try to contribute to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area.
Going forward, they would like to expand into as yet untested areas. “We are interested in forming links and partnerships with other organisations, and can provide assistance with funding applications,” said Kevin. “We would like the local community to utilise the facility, and welcome any ideas to take the project forward. We are working hard to raise funds that go towards improving the site, particularly for wheelchair users, and we would welcome any assistance with this,” continued Chris. “We would like to get involved with local schools as most of our activities can be linked to the National Curriculum, and we are also interested in hearing from local youth organisations, for instance Scouts, Army Cadets, etc who would be able to learn a new skill such as path construction or fencing, which also helps us to improve the site.”
For more information on the Beardwood Natural Living Project please email Kevin and Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook community page for the latest news updates.
For more information on Care Farming please visit www.carefarminguk.org
To download the cd go to www.thefarminglifecentre.org.uk