Adele was 13 when she first heard of Jamie's Farm. She was having a hard time at school, skipping lessons, finding it hard to concentrate and struggling with a whirlwind of teenage emotions. Then her teacher suggested a stay at the farm, which combines 'farming, family and therapy' into a five-day residential stay for children and teenagers, giving them time and space to reflect and assess their life paths. It's an amazing programme which operates at five farms in England: Bath, Hereford, Monmouth, Lewes and London Waterloo. The programme addresses the root causes of behaviour problems in schools and equips vulnerable children with the tools to thrive in secondary school.
Adele baking at the farm
The benefits of the farm visits are many: improved behaviour, increased engagement and self-esteem and a better sense of well-being. Lack of engagement in education can have a lasting impact on a child, leading to problems with employment, relationships and emotional wellbeing in adulthood. Jamie's Farm gives young people the opportunity to change their course in life, which many present and past participants, like Adele are thankful for.
Adele, now 17, from Nuneaton, told HELLO! about her life prior to the farm: "I hadn't heard of it at all, I didn't even know it was a thing. Life was a bit rocky, a lot of stuff going on, in and out of lessons, not really going to school. Issues were mainly at school. We didn't really have consistent teachers and I thought, why would I listen to what you're saying if you're not going to be in the room the next day? I think at that age (13), you're already full of emotions from home and school, so it just creates chaos inside. Some people deal with it well and some people don't."
The farmhouse at Jamie's Farm, Hereford
It was Adele's Deputy Headteacher, whom she already had a close bond with, who told her about Jamie's Farm. "She said, 'Come to my office' and I was like, 'Oh great, what's this for now?' Then she showed me what it was and said, 'You're going to go here.' I was like 'No, I'm not!' She said it would be such a good opportunity."
Adele remembers her first visit to the farm in Hereford. "I wasn't nervous, I was more guarded on what I let people know," she recalls. "The first days, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were pretty rough. I was walking off from the sessions; I wasn't really listening. It was hard to hear the praise I was being given because I wasn't used to that. I was used to being told, 'Don't do this, don't do that'. At Jamie's Farm, they said, 'You're really good at this, we're really proud of you.' I was really overwhelmed with what was going on."
Things started to change for Adele halfway through the week during a hike. She tells us: "I saw the challenges ahead of me and I said, 'I'm not doing this, this is ridiculous,' but then we got the top. I hadn't thought I'd be able to do it, but then I did. I thought: 'If I put my mind to something then I can achieve what I want to do'. From that point on I really enjoyed the rest of the week. On the Thursday, I was really involved in every session and up for anything."
Adele cuddling a piglet on the farm
At the farm, children and teenagers are encouraged to look after the animals but Adele hadn't had much previous contact with pets or farm animals. She remembers: "It was scary at first. I hadn't been around them much before and I felt really overwhelmed that I had to deal with this stuff. But then when I got stuck in it was great."
Meeting new people and making friendships with others in a similar situation was a huge part of the experience for Adele; she has fond memories of sitting around the bonfire chatting with the group in the evenings. "When we had a bonfire we were all really emotional about how we had all changed throughout the week and how we had all really benefited from it, including the members of the staff that went with us," she says.
"When we got back to school, the staff felt really involved with the people that had gone. The Headteacher set up a Friday morning session before school, so we would all go in and have breakfast together and tell everyone how our week had gone and how we were feeling."
A view of Jamie's Farm, Lewes
Ten months later, Adele visited the farm again when she was in Year 10 and found the experience improved her confidence and also helped her focus and progress with her school work afterwards.
Before the farm she would often be in detention. 'It was for being chatty and walking out of the class and not doing my work. It was never being aggressive. It was like I had too much on my mind to sit and concentrate. The farm gave me the ability to relax before I start doing something. It helped me clear my mind before I set on to do the task as well. At Jamie's Farm there are only a certain number of young people, so we all get a chance to talk about what's bothering us, how we're feeling, how it can be changed to help, how to process things, that was really beneficial."
"I'm a lot calmer now. I have a lot more patience and I can see through tasks that have barriers and I can always overcome them with a bit of determination within myself." What would her life have been like without the farm visits? "I don't think I would have made it through school to be fair," she tells us. "I don't think they would have kept me."
The dining room at Jamie's Farm, Lewes
Now Adele is working at Jamie's Farm in Lewes. She says: "At the moment I'm doing an apprenticeship at Jamie's Farm working with children and using my experience to influence to help them overcome challenges that they're experiencing. Jamie's Farm is such a good experience - no one really judges what you're going through and they guide you on the right path. It gives young people the chance to have a breather away from the city."
Adele is still in touch with the friends she made at the farm. "I talk to everyone, yeah. We've all got our own personal lives so I think it's hard to meet up, but we all still keep in contact over social media."
Another plus from the programme is less dependence on social media. Adele explains: "I still have all the social media but I just don't go on it as much as I did before because now I'm being a lot more practical and involved in things, talking to people which I wouldn't do before. Back then I'd rather sit there with my headphones in and block out everyone."
Adele in her role as an ambassador
Adele has certainly come a long way since her first visit. "With this apprenticeship, I've moved away from home. I didn't want to move away at first but then I thought, if I don't do it now when am I ever going do it?" Prior to her apprenticeship, she was an ambassador for the farm, telling others of its benefits at farm events. This helped her confidence soar.
"The ambassador programme was a big thing that helped with that, especially doing all the opening events speaking to people who I've never met before who have been through some similar things. That gave me the confidence when I got the apprenticeship to say, yeah I'll move away because I will be fine."
Visit jamiesfarm.org.uk for more information