An important element of NRN's environmental projects is working with vulnerable members of the community - adults with learning disabilities and autism, teenagers excluded from schools, young people and adults with mental health issues, children in special schools. By including our care-farming participants in local environmental projects, we hope to play a role in bringing them back into the centre of the community.
At Long Mead, we have already shown that they can play a valuable role in the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project by collecting wildflower and tree seeds from Long Mead Local Wildlife Site and sowing them, potting them on and tending them until they are planted out on restoration sites alongside our environmental volunteers. The nature of this work is such that our care-farming participants can work as equals with our environmental volunteers, creating new plants for restoring meadows just as successfully as the volunteers. We also work with them on meadow restoration sites with environmental volunteers, helping the landowners with weed maintenance. In these situations, our care farming participants work alongside our environmental volunteers who are also learning skills for the first time.
The importance of this work, is not simply that the care farming participants can make new social relationships in the community but that the conventional relationship of ‘carer’ and ‘cared for’ which dominates their lives is removed. Working along side other volunteers as equals doing the same job and learning the same skills has a hugely beneficial effect on their confidence and self-esteem.
Plans for the future include exploring how, working alongside community members, they might play an important role in helping other vulnerable people in the local community such as helping elderly members of the network manage their gardens. Raul has even piloted a project where carefarmers helped elderly people with dementia.
The project is a new model of care farming where, for the first time, the practice and involvement of those taking part extend beyond the farm gates and enables care-farming participants to play a valuable role in the community. Please email Catriona Bass (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to join in these activities.