Natural England chief executive Marian Spain discusses the £1.4m Growing Care Farming project, aiming to significantly increase the number of care farm places available each year.
Growing Care Farming is an inspiring £1.4 million project which aims to significantly increase the number of care farm places available each year.
For anyone still a little puzzled, by the phrase care farming, it is the therapeutic use of farming practices and offers people with a defined health, social or educational need the chance to participate in a variety of farming activities for their therapeutic benefit – from animal husbandry to woodland management.
It is its defining qualities of combining being in nature, being part of a ‘social’ group and taking part in meaningful farming-related activities, which make it so successful when it is used as part of a structured, bespoke care package.
The project has the potential to support a significant and much needed step change in the scale of the care farming sector, enabling critical mental health services for both children and adults to become more readily available across England, especially in rural areas.
We have a large and growing mental health issue in England and this initiative rises to that challenge with the aim of increasing the number of care farm places available each year by nearly 1 million, up to 1.3 million. What a fantastic contribution to help tackle such an important social need.
To achieve this scale of change is a serious challenge that will take innovation and determination by those in both the environment and health sectors. In particular, we in the natural environment sector must build stronger working relationships with health and social care commissioners to help streamline the referral mechanisms and pathways to nature-based therapeutic interventions such as care farm services, but this can be done.
I was delighted on behalf of Natural England to host the recent launch on 13 May of Growing Care Farming , and where I had the privilege to introduce not one, but two Government Ministers: Therese Coffey, Minister for the Environment and Nadim Zahawi Minister for Children and Families at the Department for Education.
I was also really heartened to hear James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care at NHS England make the point that: “The NHS is committed to giving people more choice and control over their care, and to support people who may be struggling with their physical and mental health to connect with their local communities.
"The expansion of social prescribing link workers, which was promised in the NHS Long Term Plan, will mean that people will be supported to get involved with the activities that are right for them. In particular we know that the use of the natural environment can make a real difference to people’s wellbeing and the Care Farming Project is a practical, and inspiring, way of providing opportunities for more people to get involved.”
Health and social care professionals (such as GPs, community mental mealth workers, social prescribing link workers or local social care workers) and education commissioners can commission an impressively wide range of care farming services for adults and children with needs including learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, dementia, drug or alcohol addiction and ex-service personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or children with emotional needs excluded from school.
Minister Coffey also reminded us in her speech that while care farming most importantly benefits the service’s users, it also offers benefits to many others, saying: “Care farming provides health and social care and specialist education providers with innovative and effective care options. It benefits society as a whole by reducing the strain on statutory services and the NHS, and it also helps farmers who have an alternative way to use their farm, to provide health, social and educational care services in addition to or instead of commercial production.”
Public Health England also provided invaluable insights and advice to the project team with Aimee Stimpson, National Lead in the Healthy Places Team, commenting afterwards: “Care farming can transform lives and provides benefits for farming and rural communities. We encourage local government, education and health commissioners to consider care farms as a way of improving mental and physical health.”
One of the highlights for me was to hear from Mark Coulman, a care farmer in North Lincolnshire, about the practical and commercial challenges of running a viable care farm and his experiences and insights into how and why he got involved.
We also heard from a social housing charity which Mark works with on how they have used care farming to help people who have been homeless to build skills and confidence to get back into work. He explained how they work together to make referrals run smoothly for both the service user and the provider, something which we hope can be replicated through this project.
Growing Care Farms is being delivered by Social Farms & Gardens in partnership with Thrive, so it was fitting that Dr Rachel Bragg, the Care Farming Development Manager from Social Farms & Gardens, had the final word. Rachel delivered an excellent presentation that neatly brought everything together with energy, enthusiasm and clarity of purpose setting out the project’s delivery model, aims and approach.
I am really delighted that Natural England is overseeing the implementation of this fantastic project as part of the wider Children and Nature programme, a commitment in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to ‘connect people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing’, funded by the Department for Education.
Given what I’ve now learnt at the launch of Growing Care Farming I’ve no doubt it will be a great success and I really look forward to hearing results as the project begins to be rolled out across England starting in Yorkshire in the autumn.