Safe Walks For Exercise
Some of our families really struggled through the sudden imposition of the Lockdowns. Many of our young people felt very confused by the fact that they were not able to attend the activities and groups they relied on for the routine and rhythm of their days and their weeks. Also, the much needed support for the families was no longer available to them from other activities that had to close. The prescribed ‘one walk a day for exercise’ was also something some families struggled with, because of their young person’s difficulties with understanding the need for social distancing.
In response to this, we only shut for one week to re-group. We then came up with the concept of ‘Safe Walks For Exercise’. Families were given a timetabled slot when they could have the farm to themselves for a walk and a picnic. We gained permission to offer this new service from our MP, who agreed this was a sensible solution to a difficult problem.
Walkways and Shelters
Thanks to a generous donation from The National Lottery, we were able to construct a fenced, mile-long walkway around the perimeter of some of the farm’s fields, so that our students and their families could walk safely around the farm, while enjoying a favourite walk to the bridge and brook. We also constructed wooden shelters along the route for picnic stops. These walks became a lifeline for many families and continue to be a main feature of our COVID safe practice with our students. Not only can they be used by families as a group, but they also naturally encourage good social distancing for a student to walk with a member of our staff.
Later in that first summer of 2020, we offered families to come for timetabled slots to feed and be with animals. Our animals were also missing the activity and company of our students and our students needed more to interest and sustain them through those long weeks and months. Students, and their families or carers, came to brush and feed the donkeys and goats and some helped to care for the hens and even to clean out the animal sheds, if they wished to.
Since then we have learnt that some jobs work better for social distancing and we have constantly adapted the jobs, all the while ensuring our students feel that their contribution to the welfare of the animals and the farm continues to be valued.
Woodwork, Gardening and Craft Activities
We made planter kits which we sent home with students to construct, then stencil and later fill with bulbs and plants ready to sell at our Plant Sale and Christmas Fayre.
We also sent home carrot and pea seeds for our students to grow their own vegetables. They sent us photographs of their progress. We prepared kits of our photo cards and sent home those too, for students to assemble and return to us for sale. We also sent home egg boxes to be labelled.
Gradually we bought plug plants for potting on, creating a team feeling once the students returned, by being outside at separate tables working with the plants. We have continued since the students returned to the farm, to develop the skills of making products to sell to our families and the public where possible, even adding 2 new Christmas products. Before Christmas 2021, students were working in small teams outside, or as individuals with carefully distanced support inside, to make wooden reindeer, snowmen, Father Christmases and small decorated fir cone Christmas trees, as well as our pressed flower coasters and greetings cards..
Education and Wildlife Monitoring
During the lockdowns, in order to keep alive for the students the activities that they are so familiar with on the farm and with the help of one of our wonderful volunteers, we sent home packs of seasonally themed worksheets and word puzzles and photographs of the farm. This created diary pages of farm life for reassurance through a sense of ‘normal farm life’ coming to them while so isolated. Like so many gatherings, our Wildlife Monitoring Group went virtual! We had weekly sessions with our group of extremely enthusiastic and often knowledgeable students to discuss the findings of our night vision cameras and the photographic evidence of activity (flora and fauna) around the farm. Together we also maintained our monitoring records .
Our Open Days
In December 2020, we held our first ‘click and collect’ style Christmas Fayre which, despite it being a much a quieter affair than our usual throng, was still warm of spirit and heart.
We also held a ‘click and collect’ Plant Sale in May 2021 and in November 2021 held a second ‘click and collect’ Christmas Fayre. This raised an amazing £2000. The weather was especially kind that day and the event turned into a lovely, socially distanced, outdoor gathering, with families sitting with their student, enjoying some mulled fruit punch and homemade cake and interacting with the donkeys, who were dressed for Christmas of course!
In September 2020, we started to offer students time at the farm with our staff. We are so fortunate that we are able to offer so many outdoor activities. Students were given their own allocated room and loo and came for shorter and fewer sessions than their usual timetable, but they were back and, in most cases, working with their support staff, and enjoying the opportunity to be purposeful, once again. Throughout that Autumn Term of 2020 more and more came back. With the imposition of further lockdowns throughout 2021, our offer to our students responded accordingly. And by September 2021 nearly all our students were back albeit for shorter or fewer sessions.
Omicron affected things such that we could not offer more to our students when we wanted to but, with the arrival of Spring, we are hopeful we will be able to extend sessions once again. In the meantime, our Wildlife Monitoring Group happens at the farm again now and, with their support staff, students engage in walks, animal care, horticulture, conservation, woodwork, maintenance and gardening.
As for so many people across the world, the pandemic has been a challenging time for our, students, their families and for us as an organisation. However, it has also been a time of ever strengthening relationships with our families, a continuing response to the needs of our students, and a time of development and growth for the farm and its facilities. For instance, as well as the walkway, we now have a number of heated log cabins to give people their own Covid secure base.
We are so grateful for the support of whole community. Our staff team have been selfless in their commitment to the needs of our students and their families, despite having to spend so much time outdoors – even in the Winter! We have received some incredibly kind and generous donations. And we have also had tremendous support from our weekend volunteers.
The BBC came to film our work and to help tell our story. Here they are with our Wildlife Monitoring Group.
The documentary is called 'Farming On The Spectrum' and is part of a series produced by the We Are England team. It airs on 16th February 2022 and is available on BBC iPlayer after that date.
To everyone who has helped us through these last two years, in whatever way, we would like to say a big THANK YOU!