A CORONAVIRUS fund grant is helping a charity to start giving youngsters a taste of farm life again after months of lockdown.

Jamie’s Farm, at Box, near Corsham, hosts hundreds of young people a year, including from schools in Chippenham. Founded by Jamie Feilden and his mum Tish in 2010, the charity takes teenagers from urban environments and gives them a week working and playing on the farm surrounded by stunning scenery, eating nourishing food and sampling a way of life far removed from their own.

But the farm had to close down in March and only began restricted visits in July with the help of a £5,000 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund. The fund has now raised £1.1 million and distributed almost £700,000 to 180 groups.

Jamie’s Farm fundraiser Matthew Chambers said the grant has been invaluable at an important time. “Where this grant is so valuable is to support us continuing those visits because with Covid and with things taking a while to start up again, we anticipate we are going to lose half our earned income from groups this year,” he said. “This grant is hugely important to us this year to make sure those visits can happen.

“We have been concerned about the impact of lockdown on young people and these visits will help to make sense of it. For some of them the world isn’t as safe a place as they thought it was, so these visits will be a chance for them to process what they’ve been through in lockdown, be re-introduced to their peers and get back into a daily routine.”

Schools such as Sheldon in Chippenham and Springfield Academy in Calne identify young people at risk or who are struggling and bring them in groups of ten or 12 to help care for its pigs, cows, lambs and sheep and pick its organic vegetables. The charity plans to work with 200 young people from Wiltshire and Swindon over the next year.

Mr Chambers said working on the farm can be a life-changing experience and even Wiltshire youngsters, who have grown up in towns surrounded by countryside, can have little or no knowledge of it or where food comes from. “There are a lot of children who even though they have easy access to the countryside, don’t get there,” he said.

“So having that proximity to the animals, feeding the pigs and doing the feeding round has a profound effect on them.”

The farm, which is one of three run by the charity, has begun taking family groups and is having daily visits from schools and colleges.

“It is a place for the young people to get into some good habits and get into some practical work but it also a place where they can have fun again,” said Mr Chambers. “One girl who visited said she had smiled more in a week than she had for the whole of the last year.”

Aside from doing jobs around the farm and enjoying the fresh air, Mr Chambers said there are other important benefits from time spent there. “The young people have so much one to one time with trained staff who are able to relate to their needs to form those relationships so that over a week it really gives those young people a chance to talk about the issues that are important to them, about coming out of lockdown and the struggles they may have had,” he said.

“The individual attention is quite important for a young person from a large family or in a home where the parents may not have been working in a flat or a small house. So coming here and having the space to run around is hugely important.”

Find out more about the charity at jamiesfarm.org.uk.

Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Each week we receive new applications for help from groups like this who are feeling the effects of the pandemic. The crisis in funding, at the very time when their services are needed more than ever, means our fund will be even more vital in the coming months.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.