Boys in Mind Meets...

An Interview with Jamie Feilden

By: Kit Cooper-Harrison

Award winning farmer and mental health campaigner - Jamie Feilden

My name is Jamie Feilden and I run a charity based just outside Bath called Jamie’s Farm. I founded the charity with my mother around 12 years ago. I was a child who grew up very interested in farming but there was no route into farming for me. I grew up in the Bath area so went to primary school in Bathford and then to secondary school in Bradford on Avon but I wasn’t really interested in school, I was far more interested in getting back to our smallholding where we had some animals that I kept. It was my passion and interest in farming that stayed with me when I went on to become a secondary teacher in London. 

I tried to become a farmer but there wasn’t a route into farming, I tried to become a vet but I didn’t get the grades. I ended up doing a history degree and a scheme called Teach First which was a fast track route into teaching. I went to teach in a challenging secondary school in Croydon. During my time in the school, I looked at the challenges the kids were facing and felt there was potential to bring some of those kids back to the farm where I’d grown up and, through the experience of a week on a farm, improve their behaviour. My motivation was more around getting to know the kids and supporting them in a pastoral way, rather than teaching them history. 

There’s a huge drive in this country at the moment about giving kids more access to the countryside, more understanding about where their food comes from, and opportunities to get out and do things on farms. What really motivated us and continues to motivate us is the power of a residential on a farm for a week to change behaviour. These children are often on the verge of exclusion, they often come from challenging backgrounds. They come and live and work right alongside us in the countryside for five days. We now run five farms doing the same thing. The data that we get back points to improved mental health from what we do. 

Right at the heart of what we do is a desire to improve wellbeing and mental health. We do that through the process of the farming family therapy that we offer that includes lots of fresh air, lots of jobs that bring real satisfaction and really boost the children’s self-esteem whether that’s chopping logs, shifting hay bales, doing anything like that, and good food. A combination of exercise, hard work, fresh air, and very importantly, seeing what a sense of community feels like. Challenging and supporting each other like a family, sitting around the same table sharing meals, all of those things are really important.

I had a child ask me “what are you going to do with all the cow puppies when they are born?”. The children are involved in everything that happens on our farms. That was one of the really strange things about last summer when the children weren’t here. We’ve got farms specifically set up for children to visit and we couldn’t have any children for all of April, May and June. The farmers who work for us are used to integrating the children into every activity, so it was strange for them doing it without the kids. It was sad when we had piglets, lambs, or calves being born and no one was here to enjoy it and benefit from it. 

If I were to send a message to my younger self, it would be something like “it will always be ok”. That is a mantra that I share with other people in our organisation when I’m trying to steady their nerves. Things will always work out and there will be a reason why they go one way or the other, and it will be ok so try to save any energy that is wasted on worrying about things. I’m obsessed with people not wasting energy worrying and I’m good at telling other people that but maybe not good at telling myself! If I could have had that in my head over the last twelve years of running Jamie’s Farm it would have helped.

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