His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales recently welcomed more than 100 care farmers and their supporters to Highgrove for a lunch reception marking the National Care Farming Initiative’s five-year anniversary. This included Dr Rex Haigh, a Berkshire psychiatrist who is Chair of a social enterprise called Exclusion Link. The aim of Exclusion Link is to work with people who have personality problems, and their carers, by establishing a ‘sense of belonging’ through a therapeutic connection with nature.
The NCFI was set up in 2005, inspired by a conference at Harper Adams University College that revealed the potential social and economic benefits to be gained from projects that allow people with physical and mental health problems to participate in normal farming activities. Exclusion Link uses a farm near Pangbourne to work with people in farm or bushcraft settings. They are also starting therapeutic horticulture in Slough, in cooperation with the Borough Council, with a long term vision of establishing a city farm - for both the local community, and for mental health treatment.
Gordon Gatward, Chief Executive of the Arthur Rank Centre and Chairman of the National Care Farming Initiative, said: “It hardly seems possible that it’s been only five years since we held the first national care farming conference when NCFI was born. So much has happened since then. From being largely unheard of, care farming is now widely recognised across the UK as a valuable tool in the delivery of a wide range of social, health, educational and therapeutic benefits. I believe that the future of care farming in this country is exciting and challenging and that the implications in terms of helping thousands of people who can benefit from it are tremendous.”
Debbie Wilcox, National Coordinator for the NCFI, said: “The reception was a wonderful opportunity for all the hard work that care farmers do around the country to be recognised and appreciated. Acknowledgement by HRH the Prince of Wales of the inspiring work that is undertaken on care farms and his heartfelt speech to those present was a great boost for the care farmers, as was the opportunity to meet others from around the UK involved in similar work.” The third National Care Farm Conference, organised by NCFI, will take place on September 16, 2010, at Harper Adams University College in Shropshire.
Rex Haigh, from Exclusion Link, said “It was an exciting day, speaking to Prince Charles about how ‘industrialised’ and out-of-touch so much of mental health care is becoming. He clearly has a deep understanding of this work, and at Highgrove I saw how care farms really are taking off, all over the country. This has invigorated me to make our ‘greencare dream’ become a reality in the Thames Valley, as an important part of what people with longstanding emotional problems need”.
Care farming projects involve commercial farms, woodlands and market gardens working with health and social care agencies to provide normal farming activities to improve participants’ physical and mental health and well-being. Farming activities and the connection with nature in the rural environment are proven to improve the quality of life for suffers of mental health issues and depression, work-related stress, learning difficulties or those with a drug or alcohol history. Becoming involved with activities on a working farm can also be very beneficial for rehabilitation and re-education for disaffected and disruptive young people. Exclusion Link runs activity week-ends for young carers (10-18 years old) in the woods near Pangbourne, as well as supporting local self-help ‘recovery’ groups to run horticultural days and other activities for people with personality problems there.
David Hare, who set up a smallholding experience for people with disabilities, near Winchester, said “I have seen the therapeutic value of people getting their hands dirty, learning from nature & appreciating the outside environment. I want Exclusion Link to go on developing projects in the outside environment for people with personality problems so that they get a new perspective on life. Taking a group of people from Slough with mental health problems, along with their families, to visit a farm & experience lambing time was an incredible occasion for the members of our group, and it gave therapists a new perspective”. One service user said of the farm visit “I didn’t really want to go to the farm when they first mentioned it - but it was such an enjoyable, worthwhile & different time for me and my children, I want to do more greencare”.
Photograph © Paul Burns Photography http://www.paulburns.co.uk/