For those who live in or near the countryside it’s easy to take the deserted roads, big skies and open spaces for granted. For children who’ve grown up in urban environments with little access to the outdoors, it can be another country altogether.
Back in 1976 former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare recognised the many benefits of giving city-dwelling children the experience of life in the countryside. With an idea to offer respite from city lives, they opened Nethercott House Farm in Devon and Farms for City Children was born. 39 years and two more farms later; Lower Treginnis in Pembrokeshire and Wick Court in Gloucestershire, and the charity is going strong, welcoming 3,000 children and 400 teachers through the doors each year.
To learn more about how the charity works we headed down to Wick Court situated in an idyllic spot on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire to get our wellies muddy.
Wick Court is a Grade II listed Tudor mansion sitting in 140 acres of land, 60 of which are farmed by the charity. A small-scale traditional livestock farm with sheep, beef cattle, pigs and poultry; it’s a perfect introduction to life on a working farm, giving children their first taste of the freedom that the countryside affords. On arrival all mobile phones and devices are put into safe storage for the week and life on the farm begins.
John Goodman or Farmer John as he is known to all, including the Joules contingent, clearly never tires of the positive impact this new environment has on each tour bus that pulls up onto Wick Court’s drive each Friday.
John Goodman, aka Farmer John
Taking a tour around the house and farmyard with pupils from Merton Abbey Primary School in Wimbledon it’s clear to see how engaged the children are. But as fun as the week is, it’s not an easy-ride. This is a working farm and the children are here to experience what that’s really like, warts and all. An hour’s work is completed each morning before breakfast, followed by group and work tasks. However it’s not all hard graft. There are plenty of leisurely pursuits involved such as bird watching, woodland walks, den building, felt making and story-telling around the fire. The evening welcomes exciting activities such as bat monitoring and with no light pollution – star gazing. Farmer John recalls a past pupil on an evening walk who declared, “you’ve got more sky here than we have”.
Naturally food is high on the agenda at the farm and chores include working in the extensive kitchen garden and cooking and eating the produce – much of which, from edible flowers to rainbow chard is completely new to many children. The non-halcyon view of the farm includes an education about where the food on our plates comes from. Eggs are gathered in the morning from the roaming hens and meat comes from the animals that are raised on the farm. There’s no choice of meals, everyone eats the same and sits down together at the table to do so.
This experience does not come for free, each place is heavily subsidised by the charity which is paid for by fundraising efforts and collaborations such as the one with Joules. The experience here is truly life-changing for so many children; opening up a world that many never knew existed. We’re proud to support the charity.