Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Down on the farm


The farm project is a unique link-up between a homelessness charity and the owners of an organic farm which allows formerly homeless people to escape London for the day and get involved in planting seeds and harvesting crops at this rural retreat in Sussex. Those with alcohol problems commit themselves to staying sober for the day and all benefit from the opportunity to be part of a group pulling together, developing their self-esteem and gaining  a sense of achievement from their work.

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Jeanne-Marie with Thames Reach service users
Jeanne-Marie with the other farm project volunteers.
Thames Reach's assistant to the CEO Jeanne-Marie Czemerys spent the day volunteering with the farm project. This is her account of the day.

"I first heard about the Farm Project at my Thames Reach induction day and jumped at the chance to volunteer. What could be better in the summertime than a day away from the office, out in the beautiful Sussex countryside?  I wasn’t so keen on the early start but Foye (the project leader) soon got us all in the mood, in the mini-bus, with a Heart FM, 80’s melody. So with an early morning sing-along, a cup of tea and a choccy biccy we were all cheery enough once we arrived at Boathouse organic farm.  


"The project runs on a weekly basis so the farmer decides what he needs done from week to week. Due to the torrential rain earlier in the summer he was desperate to get his spuds out and bagged for selling. So that was our job – potato picking! Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered there’s a machine that picks them for you these days! Of course, that didn’t mean we got to hang around chatting, sunbathing and enjoying the view - it was our job to cling onto the back of the tractor machine and sort the dirt and stones from the spuds while they’re being picked. A fast paced team task but strangely meditative we all agreed!    


"Manual labour sure makes you hungry so it was back to the main farm for a delicious lunch courtesy of a Tesco’s delivery - everyone’s favourite part of the day! By now we had all got to know each other a bit better so this was a great opportunity to chat to the volunteers. Including me, there were three of us that this was our first experience of the farm. Earlier on, I had been impressed that a few in our group had seemed to know exactly what they were doing and were keen to get to work that morning. Noel, who lives in Graham House, is an old hat on the farm. He told me that when he had first started going he hadn’t been interested in the work at all. After his third time there he started to enjoy it. Now, he loves it and the farmer often gives him more responsibility which he relishes. The general consensus from everybody I asked was that fundamentally it’s just great to get out of London – the air is fresh, the water is clean and it’s a whole different world to the one most of them see on a daily basis.


"Apart from that, it was certainly evident that by lunchtime we had developed a real sense of working together as a team – which was just as well because the farmer would be cracking his whip to get those spuds bagged after lunch.


"We got split into two groups – our team went back to the field to get on with the dirty work and the other team stayed on the main farm sorting the spuds from the fields into bags. It was a hot, sweaty and tough afternoon but in the end we managed to bag 50 bags for the farmer. He was impressed and so were we! I must say though my favourite task of the afternoon was driving the farmer’s 4X4 truck across the fields. It made my day!


"So we finished, filthy and exhausted at around 4pm and clambered back onto the mini-bus for our long drive back to smelly London. Although, as one of the volunteers did point out to me “the farm is smelly too Jeanne”.  This is true! Nevertheless, I was sad to leave the farm and the lovely countryside but soon cheered up during our drive back, swopping stories of our day and singing along to dreadful 80’s tunes.


"I’d love to get an opportunity to go back to the farm – it’s not just about getting away from London but it’s about the people you spend the day with, working alongside. It’s easy to see that the benefits to them are positively palpable - in multiple ways.   It’s such a valuable project – something to look forward to, something to get involved in and then something to think about and talk about positively. Oh and not to mention the free spuds (the farmer can’t sell the wee ones). I lived off mine for a week – delicious!" 

The farm project relies on the generosity of donors to run each year. Please help keep the farm project running by making a donation to Thames Reach.