'The cow can’t tell my secrets' – UK care farms a lifeline during lockdown

[Former 'Care Farm' student Abi Edmed, saying:] "There's no way I would have been able to cope in society if I hadn't come here.”

It’s no secret that for many lockdown has been difficult.

But ‘care farms’ like this one in England are offering support and an opportunity to swap therapy sessions on Zoom for fresh air and farm life.

With vital public services for vulnerable people shut down or reduced to video calls, ‘Future Roots’ is providing a lifeline for people struggling with mental health.

For teenagers Liam Holt and Emily Trice, working with animals and outdoor time has been transformative.

"I was not having a good time at school and home and now I'm back here. The best bit is seeing how everybody is enjoying it and having fun with all the animals."

"I had a lot of stress issues, high stress levels, quickfire snaps. Because lockdown came around and everything I had no control over it. The person that was helping me, I couldn't see her face to face."

Children and young people can be referred here by their schools for animal-assisted therapy and training in agriculture and cookery skills.

Julie Plumley - a Dorset farmer's daughter and professional social worker - founded Future Roots in 2006.

She says for some young people social distancing has been devastating.

"We had so many social workers contact us to say, can you take this young person, that young person that suddenly had nothing at all. And when they came here, you could see that they were just so thankful."

Abi Edmed used to come here as a child – now she’s training as a nurse and still comes here to help out.

"Coming here, I learnt to process a lot of trauma, and that might not just have been through Julie, so it was actually just being able to wander off, go chat to a cow - the cow can't tell my secrets."

And Future Roots isn't the only one.

At another care farm – Pathways - founder Geoff Stevens is on a mission to beat loneliness.

"Loneliness and isolation is gripping people. You bring them out here and they start mixing with 5, 10, 12 people they've got relationships going they've got conversations going they're using their grey matter."

31-year-old Sally Payne comes here with her mother Susan to feed llamas and clean out animal pens.

"I have autism and anxiety and depression, so I like coming here because it gives me like structure, fresh air and exercise that is good for the mental health."

"It has given me a sort of back-up team you know you can feel very alone when you're dealing with a child with difficulties so they're being supportive to me as well."