Nuffield Scholar Robin Asquith wanted to look at the positive effect agriculture could have on social care. Emily Ashworth meets him on High Farm, a care farm in North Yorkshire to find out more.
They say that a bit of fresh air does you good, and it is certainly something Robin Asquith believes in passionately when it comes to running High Farm care farm, which sits quietly in the middle of Danby Dale, North Yorkshire and is surrounded by many miles of open space and beautiful countryside.
As part of the Camphill Village Trust charity, Robin’s aim is to support adults and young people who have learning disabilities and mental health issues and more recently, people living with dementia, by supporting them to develop key skills on a farm.
Running cattle and sheep across 263 hectares (650 acres), the farm itself is a haven for anyone wishing to seek a bit of solitude and Robin and his team hope to give those who frequent High Farm some form of ‘purpose and meaning’ through various activities; helping with farm practices and interaction with the animals.
In 2016, Robin took on a Nuffield Scholarship to research the positive impact farming could have on social care and what people could gain from using agriculture as a tool to support various conditions. Robin travelled to America, Ireland, Italy, Holland and Norway, to name but a few, to find that many of these countries were more progressive than the UK when it came to using farms as means of healthcare.
Robin says: “Unlike care farms in Holland or Norway, this country is a little more detached from food and farming, but we can use farming as a vehicle to deliver different engaging and therapeutic benefits.
“But one of the things I found was seeing how [other countries] supported adults with dementia on the farm.”
The introduction of dementia care was a natural progression for the High Farm team, especially for those who have links to farming in their past.
Robin says: “The idea is, if you get an illness in old age that affects your memory, in the UK the options are mostly limited to day services which are, invariably in a town or city.
“If you’ve had a manual or outdoor job, that’s not where you want to be. It’s certainly not where I’d want to be.
“The aim is to have a supportive environment outdoors where people feel comfortable.”
Dementia training was given in partnership with Dementia Adventure, a registered charity who aim to help those diagnosed with the disease gain outdoor access to nature and they have now welcomed four people living with dementia on to the farm.
John Cawley, who grew up on a dairy farm, is already reaping the benefits of High Farm.
John’s social care coordinator Michelle Buck says: “Because of the type of dementia, he has an inability to express himself. But when he’s here and you show him [farming] related tasks, he knows what to do immediately.
“He’s started to engage in the farming side now.
“Once he’s been here in the fresh air and engaged with us all, he goes home in a better mood and sleeps better. His wife has improved health too as she also sleeps better.”
The farm, which can support up to 10 people per day, opens from Monday to Friday. The team grow vegetables for the local farm shop, along with the lamb, beef and pork that are reared on the farm. It is visible how much those involved enjoy their time at High Farm, caring for a wide spectrum of learning disabilities, including autism and Asperger’s. Robin says he notices ‘increased confidence within a few weeks.’
“It’s about allowing them to have the opportunities that everyone else gets,” says Robin.
“They shouldn’t be shoved in to a corner – they should be able to live a fulfilling and varied life.
“It’s giving people the confidence to grow and develop new skills and live independently.
“It also showcases that farming is much more than just food production. It’s a multifunctional industry.”
But the next phase to develop is in connection with the NHS.
Social prescriptions will soon hopefully be available where doctors can provide time outdoors at places such as High Farm as an effective way to deal with mental health issues and, with about 240 care farms across the UK, the potential is huge.
Robin says: “The NHS have committed money which will mean places such as High Farm and other social farms could be utilised as a means of support.
“There is a massive scope for this.”
But the team, says Robin, is ambitious, full of energy and keen to drive the farm forwards and create more opportunities for people.
He says: “We wanted to create a place where people could feel valued and respected, offering opportunities to learn and develop. We have done well at this so far, but we want to see more opportunities. I now work across the nine Camphill Village Trusts sites helping the charity to establish social farms and gardens in our other communities, based on the ethos we have established here.”
According to the annual care farming survey, the interest in care farming is on the rise. It also states that this type of business could provide an extra income stream to your farm. It states that ‘in addition to providing valuable health and wellbeing benefits to service users and engaging more people in agriculture, care farming therefore provides new opportunities for small family farms who may be seeking alternative ways to use their farms and farming experiences post-Brexit.’