Conference in Diss hears moving testimonies about care farms

Clinks Care Farm, Toft MonksDoeke DobmaPicture: James Bass

Clinks Care Farm, Toft MonksDoeke DobmaPicture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A conference heard moving testimonies about the difference care farms can make to people's physical and mental health and self-esteem.

The Heart of Rural Wellbeing conference at Diss Corn Hall on Friday aimed to raise the profile of care farming in the region and heard from a number of speakers, including care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, as well as Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee and Easton and Otley College principal David Lawrence.

The conference was organised by Doeke Dobma, who set up Clinks Care Farm at Toft Monks, near Beccles, to provide 'farming on prescription' to aid the therapy of vulnerable people across Waveney and Great Yarmouth.

Debbie Rawlinson, director of Downham Cottage Care Farm near Woodbridge, spoke about how troubled youngsters would open up after meeting some of the animals at the farm.

She said one young man did not take off his hood or baseball cap when he was in class before spending some time at her farm.

When he arrived at the farm the resident labrador began barking and when she explained to him the dog did not like hoods or caps, he instantly removed them.

On another occasion, a student from Easton and Otley College arrived at the farm with poor communication skills, as he rarely spoke to anybody in class, but began talking after spending time on the farm - to the surprise of his school tutors.

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Miss Rawlinson, who has worked with Suffolk County Council, Pupil Referral Units and the Prison Service, said: 'I would not go back to my old job even if they offered me three times the salary I was on, which was a pittance because it was a charity.

'It is a 365 days a year job, but the rewards are immeasurable.'

Mr Lamb was visiting to learn more about care farming, as there is no formal government policy on care farms. He spoke about what the government had been doing generally for mental healthcare provision.

Mr Dobma said quite often when people had mental health problems they would be taken to A&E or given medication - but the care farm aimed to provide an alternative therapy that could be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, ranging from depression to dementia.

In some cases, the visitors to the farms do not just improve their mental health, but also learn new skills to prepare them for the world of work through their involvement with the animals.

Mr Dobma's 143-acre Clinks Care Farm has helped prepare visitors for work on other farms.

In Holland, there are 1,100 care farms and the number has grown since the Dutch government started supporting care farms in the late 1990s. However, there are only 170 in the UK, with six care farms in Norfolk and 10 in Suffolk.

Mr Dobma said Norfolk could potentially have up to 60 care farms.

n Are care farms the way forward for mental health care in Norfolk? Email