Farms for City Children
Sat snugly in the rolling Mid-Devon hills, it is easy to see how the Victorian charm of Nethercott House draws excitable comparisons to Hogwarts among its inhabitants.
When Anna and I were lucky enough to visit the house recently, the inhabitants in question were 35 children from Kelvin Grove Primary School, Lewisham, London. Why had these kids, along with a few of their teachers, swapped the noise of Southeast London for a tranquil week in the countryside? Well, they were the beneficiaries of the superb Farms For City Children initiative.
A Rich History
Founded by author, poet and playwright, Sir Michael Morpurgo and his wife Lady Clare in 1976, the charity has worked tirelessly to facilitate the visits of city children to one of their farms in Pembrokeshire, Gloucestershire, or just a short trip from our own family-run farm in Devon. The neighbouring village of Iddesleigh is actually the spiritual home of Morpurgo’s legendary war horse!
Over 100,000 children have benefited from the scheme thus far, with schools visiting from London, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Plymouth among other cities. Strong bonds have been created with these schools and for many, a trip to Nethercott has become an annual occurrence.
The charity aims to heal the growing severance between children and the countryside. This is achieved through a variety of activities and practices which are overseen by the incredible team at Nethercott who, with the help of selfless volunteers, ensure the kids have access to an authentic experience of nature. We were welcomed by Lisa Long, Corporate Fundraising Manager of the charity. After joining the group for pasties freshly made by the kids just that morning, Lisa gave us an insight into what the average week at Nethercott can be expected to include.
The Day To Day
“The kids will arrive on a Monday and leave on a Friday”, Lisa said. “Whilst here, they’ll eat all their meals together, something that many don’t get at home. Food actually plays a vital role in the week. Jenny, our Kitchen Manager, and all of our gardeners love showing the children where the food comes from and are always hands-on when encouraging them to sow seeds, harvest plants, and taste test right from source.”
After lunch the kids were put to work! They split into teams and worked together mucking out the stables. I was expecting some grumbling, however they were all in very high spirits and it was clear that some of the more competitive team members took great pride in ensuring the horses and donkeys were kept in comfort. Lisa explained the effect that the animals had on the kids. She said: “All of our kids adore the animals. Each week, our local farmer comes down with his trailer, loads up the kids and takes them to see his farm. They get to feed cattle, herd sheep, and roam the land checking on the health of the livestock.”
Back at Nethercott, the main attractions are the pigs, horses and donkeys. Lisa continued: “We’ve had kids witness our sows give birth and we’ve currently got the cutest litter of piglets who are universally adored. Our horses and donkeys have also been responsible for some special moments. We’ve had children that were elective mutes and we’ve found them in the stables speaking to our animals. There’s no doubting the lasting effect that a trip here produces.”
Image: Feeding time!
We witnessed the kids in the woodland section of the grounds and Anna was lucky to escape after being ambushed by a little lad who was particularly engrossed in his own world. “We have an outdoor school run by Charlie, one of our farm school leaders and recently appointed mental health ambassador. As well as trying their hands at sawing, den-making, whittling wood, and lighting fires, Charlie ensures the kids feel comfortable openly discussing their emotions, things they are feeling and things they might be scared of. They also get a chance to create a number of mementos to take back to the city with them.”
Having been raised in the countryside myself, seeing the stars clearly at night is something that I have got used to. However, for many of these kids, this is something that they had never experienced before. Lisa said: “The night sky is a mystery to most of these children. Where they are from they are taught not to go outside when it is dark as this means danger. With our guided nighttime walks, we are able to show the kids the wonders which are available in this part of the world!”
Farms for City Children are truly doing some outstanding work with children. But they need our help to to continue changing lives. We are humbled to support the charity by donating a percentage of every sale of our kids bangers to the charity. We also have donation buckets in our farm shops so feel free to put your spare change to good use! If you would like to support this superb organisation and give more children the opportunity to experience farm life, donate here and make a real difference.