When John Simonds died as a nineteen-year-old in 1983, the Trust was established in his memory. Initially a dream arising out of tragic circumstances, the Trust, established at Rushall Farm, is now nationally recognised for its services to education in the countryside.
The Trust’s goals are to:
§ encourage qualities of leadership, self-confidence, mutual respect and resilience in young people.
§ promote a love and understanding of the countryside.
§ enable people to learn about the countryside and agriculture.
§ develop co-operation between the agricultural community and the public.
§ develop an understanding of the importance of conservation and sustainability.
When children come to the farm they cannot “not bother” and they are “disarmed”. As they step off the coach, they have no choice but to experience the natural and farmed world from sounds and smells, the wind and rain, sheep and cows, stinging nettles and bluebells and all within an area of poor phone reception. We have a skilled team of trained staff to ensure that learning in this environment is memorable, challenging, distinctive and can be done safely. Each year about 14,000 children come to the farm.
Over the last two years we have been improving the facilities, the parking and safety for children on the Manor site, and now have a new lease in place from our landlord William Cumber which includes the former charcoal production facility at Oaklands Yard. At a cost of c.£85,000 this building has been converted into a workshop where children with special needs can be catered for more appropriately.
The needs of young people coming from two local special schools have increased considerably. The new facility at Oaklands Yard offers the opportunity to provide a special place which is accessible for all in a secure space where we will have the opportunity to develop current activities - and new ones including raised beds, beehives, tool storage and a greenhouse. It will also cater for other defined groups from schools where children are not thriving in the classroom; provide a base for individual young people struggling with mental health problems; and become a base for Forest Schools and Life Skills work with groups.
Alongside the many children coming on day visits and camps, we are developing Life Skills courses when pupils come over several weeks into an encouraging environment. Pilot schemes have met with considerable success. The Headteacher of one primary school reported that the social skills of her targeted students had improved considerably. One pupil who was very disruptive had, on his own admission, become a model pupil, and that was confirmed by his teacher!
There has also been considerable success with Year 7 pupils from Prospect School. One girl, who suffered from high levels of anxiety, interviewed Steve Waters (who runs the farm), which was published in the ‘Prospect News’ - which is sent to all parents. This encouraged the student to join an acting group and she has subsequently appeared in a stage production. Her mother was delighted.
Another had not spoken to others for at least two years. She was undergoing work with therapists to improve this situation. This girl spoke to JST staff on the first day of her Life Skills Course (to the amazement of her Head of Year) and has continued to speak.
The farming community and other rural organisations are in a good position to work with schools and make a difference not only in mainstream visits but with those who are struggling in the classroom. The Trust is intent on exploring the effect of intervention in a child’s behaviour, at an early age, with the aim of reducing mental illness later in life, so equipping that child to deal effectively with the rigours of life.
John Bishop OBE www.rushallfarm.org.uk