The farm giving disabled people the chance to experience rural life

Medicine comes in many different forms

 Paula with Will Payne and volunteers and participants at High Mead Farm

Medicine comes in many different forms. Whittling wood, tending the land, caring for animals and feeling the sun on your skin can do wonders for physical and mental wellbeing.

Providing that therapy for many members of the community is High Mead Farm near Longham.

Since last autumn the four-acre plot has offered a supported work environment for people with learning and physical difficulties as well as youngsters who are out of work or who have been excluded from school.

Will Payne and Mark Gregory took over the land, which was in a run-down state, but with the help of local people it’s back on track to becoming a sustainable farm.

“We wanted to make it accessible to the whole community,” explained Will.


“We’re a non-profit making organisation and work with various groups locally – mainly those with learning difficulties and mental health issues.”

It’s a symbiotic relationship. The farm and its animals are looked after and, in turn, the workers come away with improved mental and physical health and well-being through a connection with nature, animals and the soil.

Will said: “We had one lady come with head bowed, but as soon as she saw the goats she stood upright.”

Smiles are aplenty at the beginning of the week thanks to Monday’s Down on the Farm Project with Paula.

Respite care provider Paula Smith, who has spearheaded the project since January, has worked with people with disabilities for 15 years including at Julia’s House and the Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy.

“There have been government cutbacks and funding cuts recently,” she said.
“Through the farm I wanted to provide something affordable in a spacious, safe, healing environment.”

Those in Paula’s group on a Monday are mentally or physically disabled and all are on benefits.
“They need a purpose in life to get up and earn that benefit. It doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to society but they need to do so in the right environment because of how society perceives them.”
Paula strives to ‘encourage and promote’ and to provide structure to the day as all her group are on the autistic spectrum.
As well as jobs to do around the farm, there’s fun and games, singing, and the chance to monitor the weather and wildlife.
“We also have classroom activities,” said Paula.
“We have been learning about hens including how to look after them, which has tied in with finding pictures and collecting eggs which we have used in several recipes.”

Not forgetting the ducks, turkeys, geese and ponies. Nor the rare-breed pigs belonging to The Tickled Pig in Wimborne, which the farm is also looking after.
“Some people in the group can’t push a wheelbarrow, some can. But everyone benefits from new skills, and it’s sociable and educational. There’s lots of networking opportunities too, and it’s important to feel part of something,” added Paula, who also runs The Tuesday Club in Southbourne.
Volunteers are also a valuable addition.

“As a local resource we have evolved as an active volunteering hub for all generations within our community,” said Will.
“We are expanding our volunteering opportunities and always looking for people to give a little time and knowledge, such as retired tradespeople. But whatever your interest, skill, or motivation, there’s a task waiting for you at the farm.”
Every week is different and everyone gets something out of it.
“We’ve had reports of people and their carers sleeping better at night after coming to High Mead,” said Paula.
“Some people were originally frightened of animals but they love them now.
“It’s so rewarding to see. I’d love to set something up every day of the week if I could.”

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