A coronavirus fund grant is helping a charity to start giving youngsters a taste of farm life again after months of lockdown.
Jamie’s Farm, at Box, near Corsham, hosts hundreds of young people a year, including from schools in Swindon and Chippenham.
Founded by Jamie Feilden and mum Tish in 2010, the charity takes teenagers from urban environments and gives them a week working and playing on the farm, surrounded by stunning scenery, eating nourishing food and sampling a way of life far removed from their own.
The farm had to close in March because of lockdown, and began restricted visits in July with the help of a £5,000 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.
The fund has now raised £1.1 million and distributed almost £700,000 to 180 groups.
Jamie’s Farm fundraiser Matthew Chambers said: “Where this grant is so valuable is to support us continuing those visits, because with covid and with things taking a while to start up again, we anticipate we are going to lose half our earned income from groups this year.
“This grant is hugely important to us this year to make sure those visits can happen.
“We have been concerned about the impact of lockdown on young people, and these visits will help to make sense of it.
"For some of them the world isn’t as safe a place as they thought it was, so these visits will be a chance for them to process what they’ve been through in lockdown, be re-introduced to their peers and get back into a daily routine.”
Schools including Swindon Academy, and Swindon's Nova Hreod and Abbey Park, as well as others including Springfield Academy in Calne, identify young people at risk or who are struggling, and bring them in groups of 10 or 12 to help care for its pigs, cows, lambs and sheep and pick its organic vegetables.
The charity plans to work with 200 young people from Swindon and elsewhere in Wiltshire over the next year.
Mr Chambers said working on the farm could be a life-changing experience, and that even Wiltshire youngsters, who had grown up in towns surrounded by countryside, sometimes had little or no knowledge of where food came from.
He added: “There are a lot of children who, even though they have easy access to the countryside, don’t get there.
“So having that proximity to the animals, feeding the pigs and doing the feeding round, having that intimate connection with the countryside and the animals and doing real jobs to help keep the farm running has a profound effect on them.
"They are making a difference and they can see that.”
The farm, which is one of three run by the charity, has begun taking family groups and is having daily visits from schools and colleges.
“It is a place for the young people to get into some good habits and get into some practical work, but it is also a place where they can have fun again,” said Mr Chambers.
“One girl who visited said she had smiled more in a week than she had for the whole of the last year.”
Aside from doing jobs around the farm and enjoying the fresh air, Mr Chambers said, there were other important benefits.
“The young people have so much one-to-one time with trained staff who are able to relate to their needs to form those relationships, so that over a week it really gives those young people a chance to talk about the issues that are important to them, about coming out of lockdown and the struggles they may have had.
“The individual attention is quite important for a young person from a large family, or in a home where the parents may not have been working in a flat or a small house. So coming here and having the space to run around is hugely important.”
The charity's website is jamiesfarm.org.uk
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Each week we receive new applications for help from groups like this who are feeling the effects of the pandemic.
"The crisis in funding, at the very time when their services are needed more than ever, means our fund will be even more vital in the coming months.”
More information about the fund can be found at wiltshirecf.org.uk