The excitement of the children from Lings Primary School, Northampton is evident within minutes of them stepping off their school bus at Oak Farm near Naseby, Northamptonshire. Young voices, initially quiet and whispered, have become louder and more confident asking a variety of questions from the inquisitive “What’s that over there Miss?”, to “Urgh, what’s that smell?” and the slightly anxious, “Will we see any tigers?”.
These children are from a primary school in a deprived, urban area and today are the enthusiastic guests of beef and sheep farmer Tina Fanshawe. Tina has over 20 years’ experience hosting school visits for The Country Trust ever since she needed help enticing local schools to visit her farm under the then Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
She is a passionate and active advocate of the charity and the role it plays in educating inner city children from some of the most disadvantaged and deprived towns and cities in the UK. In 2014 she took over from farmer and businessman, John Henderson, as Chair of Trustees and along with the Board of Trustees and Chief Executive, Jill Attenborough, began creating an ambitious strategic plan to double the number of children the charity works with.
The Country Trust helps children to discover food, farming and the countryside in three ways:
- day visits to real working farms,
- residential visits to the countryside,
- year-long programmes exploring every aspect of growing, cooking and even selling food.
“Farm visits are at the heart of what we do,” explains Tina. “The Country Trust makes it easy and safe for me as a farmer to host visits for primary schools, and I love providing lots of hands-on experiences for children who have quite limited opportunities at home. We are able to show them where their food is produced, how farmers work through the seasons planting and growing crops and what is involved in caring for animals.
“Often young children (and increasingly their parents too) don’t link farms and the countryside with the food that they buy in shops and supermarkets. It is really important that children, who after all are our consumers of the future, know and understand where their food comes from.”
The Country Trust works closely with LEAF, is a member of FACE, and a core member of the new Countryside Classroom initiative, which is already making it easy for thousands of teachers to access resources on food, farming and the natural environment.
It is the charity’s focus on disadvantaged children from primary schools in deprived urban areas that makes it distinctive. These children may come from chaotic and stressful home situations, with very limited access to day trips, holidays, and experiences which are so important to educational attainment and personal development, health and well-being.
The Country Trust helps break down some of the barriers surrounding social exclusion and build bridges between communities that may otherwise never meet. Last year the charity worked in partnership with MADE, a Muslim social and environmental action group, delivering an innovative programme of eight highly successful farm visits for Islamic faith schools and youth groups in London, the Midlands and the North.
The demand for The Country Trust’s work is growing, at a time when schools are facing unprecedented budget pressures, and farmers are facing post-Brexit uncertainty. The charity receives no Government funding and relies on generous donations from supporters and the gift of time from its network of host famers and other volunteers.
You go, they go
This year the charity launched a new fundraising initiative You Go, They Go to help all of us to share our love of the countryside and bring transformative food, farming and countryside experiences to even more disadvantaged children. Farmers and estate owners are especially encouraged to get involved by having a brightly coloured You Go They Go collection tin (and wonderful animal stickers!) in their farm shop or cafe, badging an estate Open Day as a Country Trust day, taking donations on Open Farm Sunday, or organising a charity fishing competition or game shoot.
Tina is an enthusiastic supporter of the You Go They Go campaign and her Bridge Club has already raised over £2000 towards school transport costs. “We know disadvantaged children face many issues – they are more likely to have Special Education Needs, to be obese and have mental health issues. They also miss out on those parts of childhood that meant so much to me – contact with animals, the opportunity to just enjoy the countryside, playing in the fresh air with friends.
“We can’t solve all the problems children are facing. But we can bring the countryside alive for them, giving them wonderful experiences to talk and write about, and igniting their curiosity. With more support, there’s no telling how big a difference we can make!”
To find out how to become a Country Trust host farmer, get involved in the You Go, They Go campaign or make a donation to The Country Trust, contact Claire Marmion on 01245 608363 or visit www.countrytrust.org.uk