care farming – our natural companion?

Jan 8, 2017

Trudi Warner, one of WWOOF UK’s directors, attended the fifth UK Care Farming Conference on our behalf recently and reflects on what she learned and how WWOOFing may work alongside it.

WWOOFers and WWOOF hosts already know that time outdoors gives us solace, stimulation, and a sense of wellbeing. In recent years, as many people have lost contact with the natural world and there has been an epidemic of mental ill health, initiatives such as green gyms, health walks, and a range of ecotherapies have proved cost effective and popular with users of mental health services. People report that they reduce social isolation, and give them meaningful occupation and a sense of purpose. Even plants and animals offered to elderly people in residential care homes make an enormous difference to their mental and physical health.

Care Farms therefore offer a really positive alternative or complement to drug therapy and psychological therapies offered by the NHS. There are now 240 in the UK with 18 more in the planning stage. They can improve the quality of life and meet specific needs for a range of people, including people with learning disabilities, dementia, and mental illness, as well as dysfunctional families and disaffected young people at risk of social exclusion. Some, such as Future Roots and Bore Place, the home of Grow2Grow, are well established and recognised, with Future Roots being featured on the BBC’s Countryfile in November 2015. Others are seeking funding from NHS commissioners, local authorities, and a range of voluntary organisations, including the Esme Fairburn Trust. Some attended the recent London Conference where I considered ways in which WWOOF and Care Farming UK can support each other’s work. 

We do seem to be natural partners and there may be more formal ways links can be developed, so that, for instance, people who have had beneficial placements on Care Farms could move on to WWOOF hosts in their recovery phase. Retired WWOOF hosts may have skills to offer to Care Farms, whilst paid care placements may offer an income stream to WWOOF hosts wanting to diversify. There can be a great deal of flexibility as many different arrangements are in place, some for day placements, and some for residential placements, both for respite or longer term care. At Future Roots there is a Countryman’s Club to enable infirm ex farmers to meet socially in a farm setting.

Care Farming UK can provide information, advice and support for anyone interested in exploring these possibilities, and I am hoping to be linking more closely with them in the future. I would be really interested to hear from anyone with thoughts, ideas, or anecdotes or experiences to share. We hope this may become a fruitful partnership.

Please let us know your thoughts – leave a comment below or email info@wwoof.org.uk. Find out more about Care Farming UK from their website.

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