When the cows come up to you, just sing

Last weekend I went to Paddington Farm to help them celebrate their 25 years anniversary.  A joyous occasion with visitors from twenty five years ago visiting the farm.  A stark contrast to the rioting cities we had left behind.


Paddington Farm (of which I am chair) is a charity operating as a social enterprise, a journey we embarked on two years ago and which has got the support of everyone including the local farmers who are now taking it more seriously because of the business ethic. It supports a comment I made in the Guardian last week where I argued that charity can actually create an attitude of dependency and lack of innovation because of funding arrangements.


The concept of Big Society was alive at the farm and the messages and speeches from those who have visited the farm or who have volunteered at the farm were heart –warming. Our local MP Tessa Munt was there to hear them but I wish David Cameron had been there to see how important it is that we are helped to build sustainable farm holiday businesses to give poor people a welcome break from their stressful lives.  It has very evident social values.

Children clearly like visiting the farm. Here are  some thoughts from children visiting  from Hackney :

Farmers look after animals, feed and clean them, put them to bed and train animals not to bite people”

Farmers really like the countryside and use less electricity than us as they don’t watch TV

Never walk behind a horse

When the cows come up to you, just sing

When we go back to school we will garden, plant, weed, water, dig and harvest. We will plant in season things like spinach and blueberries.  We will have stalls in the playground and a farmer’s market.  We will find out if fruit and vegetables are British and not transported from far away.


Luckily for the children at London Early Years Foundation, we love the farm and intend to continue visiting come hell or high water.  Not so long ago one manager took her apprentice to the farm.  This young person solemnly told me that it was an experience that she would remember for the rest of her life.

In 1819, the Government and communities were ringing their hands in horror because of an outbreak of knife crime and criminality among young people. Parents were asked to take control of their children, society was told to wake up to their responsibilities.  What emerged was the Young Men’s Working Clubs which provided training and opportunities for young disaffected and angry young men. Are we  staring one  answer right in the face?  Young people need work, training and play.

Places like Paddington Farm must be part of the offer to apprentices with the space to learn and volunteer. Mr Cameron, make this part of your plan for National Citizen Programme. It is surely one way to offer young people a different experience which opens their eyes to the greater world and helps them find their place in it.

Organisations that argue for the rights of all children need to fight for the rights of all children and young people to visit farms.  They must shout out loud about why such places are critical to play and learning.  Children need to experience the joy of running free, getting mucky, climbing, feeding animals, collecting eggs, having campfires and enjoying the experiences of being alive at least once. Older children need space, calm, forest schools, cooking real food and learning how to do things like woodwork,  mending fences, repairing buildings. These are transferable skills which have real purpose and build confidence and competence.

In November I hope all our LEYF managers will spend a weekend on the farm. One thing we will be examining is how LEYF apprentices can access the farm so at the end of their training we will all still be singing when the cows come up to us.



  1. #1 by Julie Weiss on September 5, 2011 - 1:31 pm

    Here here! I took 8 children to the farm this year and although there was lots to organise it was all so worth it. The whole experience was truly magical and this year was extremely special to me because we were all from one nursery. We all slept in the same dormitory and every night at bedtime we would have our giggle fits, because its so surreal being in our Pj’s with our team members and taking the role as primary careers! Having now formed a closer relationship with the children through going to the farm, it has enabled us to add more magical memories to their Learning Journeys forming a foundation for their adult life.
    I will always support Paddington farm holidays as it’s just a wonderful experience and you just can’t beat stroking a real goat (Samson), inhaling the countryside or cooking a sausage on the BBQ to reading Farmyard Hullabaloo!! The trip has made us reflect on how we use our outdoor space. We have turned our garden into a forest school ethos; keeping our plastic dinosaurs inside and promoting lots of problem solving activities and going back to traditional ‘play ground’ games. Making pebble patterns, digging bark, mud pies and playing what’s The Time Mr. Wolf! Change takes time and I am very confident that in 6 months we will have it embedded at Luton Street.

    Julie Weiss
    Nursery Manager
    Luton Street Community Nursery

  2. #2 by Tiffany Kearton on September 1, 2011 - 12:15 pm

    At the Director of Paddington Farm I support June’s comments.

    It is very difficult to discribe the impact our farm experience has on the children who have never been to the countyside before. If you are a child from a deprived part of London that has never been on holiday, the fact that you can run around a 43 acre farm, play in the woods, pick apples from the trees, forage in our vegtable garden, see stars for the first time and feed animals, it really is life changing. Not only does this experience teach children where eggs come from, not Tescos, as most children believe, but it gives them space to be children, free of peer pressure and all the social contraints put apon them. It also gives them a life time of memories of their first holiday. Our favourite sound is children running and screaming. It means they have just got off the mini bus and summer has started!

    As a social enterprise we are moving away from being dependant on funding and sourcing more creative income streams. We recently opened a farm shop to enable our visitors to buy produce grown on the farm and to encourage healthy eating. We have built camping facilities to enable more low income families to enjoy the farm experience. We plan to extend our yurt camping which proved very popular this summer.

    If you would like to know more about our farm experience then please look at our website at http://www.paddingtonfarm.co.uk

    Tiffany Kearton
    Director of Paddington Farm

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