28th November 2019
“I was isolated, living alone, and traumatised from constant symptoms of mental illness,” those are the words of Peter who has been attending Susan’s Farm, a 36-acre working care farm near Carlisle for two years.
A key element of Susan’s Farm, named after local farmer, Susan Aglionby, has always been to enable and help young people grow in their knowledge and experience of where food comes from, of good farming practices and to gain practical experience that would not otherwise be available to them.
Each year, the farm receives more and more referrals to assist and offer regular based learning opportunities for young people, including those who are finding school a difficult environment. Alongside this, with the personalisation of community care services, requests were made to offer similar opportunities for adults. In 2014, visits from those with long-term mental health issues started.
In 2016, a staff member with agricultural experience in teaching was employed, with support from a three year grant from the Cumbria Fund. This enabled the not-for-profit farm to continue working with vulnerable adults, offering hands on experience and skills while working towards an NVQ Level 1 in agriculture in conjunction with Newton Rigg College.
“The farm has become a huge part of how I manage my own wellbeing. I’m more confident and sociable, enjoy working in a team, and now feel part of the group,” Peter said. “The symptoms didn’t magically disappear, but I was able to attend once a week and learn how to care for the animals and make myself useful doing tasks essential to the running of the farm. The greater importance on a personal level was learning how to be me around other people.”
The project runs twice a week on a Monday and Friday. A day working on the farm provides physical exercise, often working with animals, in an outdoor environment. Working as a team provides a sense of camaraderie and an emphasis is put on socialisation, through eating together with staff; and health and wellbeing, through discussions on diet, smoking and alcohol.
Some of the volunteers have been inpatients in psychiatric units for months or years, some live in very isolated situations, often with no form of telephone communication, and others have special needs or a history of long-term mental health issues.
Ruth Alcroft, Director, said: “During the three years, we supported 16 vulnerable adults and five adults attained qualifications. For one volunteer, it was his first ever qualification aged 47. Four are now working to turn this into a full Level 1 diploma and three new students have started.
“The success of the sessions has been phenomenal with one vulnerable adult, having been a volunteer for several years, securing a part-time job. Another is now employed on an ad hoc basis by the farm. The sessions have also provided respite for a carer whose husband is living with a brain injury. His skills have also been invaluable around the farm, providing him with an opportunity to do what he loves.”
Thousands of people visit Susan’s Farm each year, which was donated to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust several years ago. Susan, who received the ‘Special Award for Care in the Farming Community’ at the 2019 Northern Farmer Awards, also takes part in the annual Open Farm Sunday to let people discover how food is grown and produced.