#huckleberries

Our Story

It all started with a puppy or I guess it started a long time before then, with a childhood dream of being a farmer, but the first step was in March 2016. My mum passed away unexpectedly and through all the lovely words that people wrote or said about her I realised that she had made a difference to so many children’s lives, through something as simple as teaching them to dance. It was a time for reflection and change - that small advert for a border collie puppy in Scats was how we found Jet and that is responsible for changing our path.

During my time as a governor and safeguarding lead at my local primary school I had been working with our senior team and ELSA to strategically address the challenges and responsibilities that many children face, often before they even arrive in school. I was shocked by the number of children in our community who were suffering with their emotional well-being and mental health. Whilst I had practiced meditation for many years, my interest in children’s emotional well-being began to grow and I found myself reading extensively on the subject. At the same time my eldest daughter started secondary school and I was abruptly awoken to the challenges that girls and boys face as they transition into their teen years. I’d hoped my parenting style had incorporated elements of mindfulness and I’d considered my kids to be resilient, so if they were struggling, then I was sure many others were too.

I began to appreciate that for different reasons some developmental learning areas were less mature in some children, and this let them down as they grew older - the ability to observe and adjust their feelings, to nurture and be kind to themselves, or just practicing taking time out from the world, to switch off and ponder their own thoughts and resolve their own worries. This combined with all the other pressures of a teens world it is no wonder that the state of our children’s mental health is in crisis.

Jet had started training to herd sheep with Fiona and Phil, he was good and Fiona suggested we got him some ducks to herd at home. We’d had chickens before so after repairs to the chicken house and run we brought home 3 ducks and 6 chickens.

As my ideas evolved so too did the synergies in my interests. I started studying Small-Scale Farming at Merrist Wood College. What an amazing six months - we were injecting goats, shearing sheep and worming ducks within the first weeks! We also visited smallholders to learn from their experiences, drove tractors and made sausages; above all Luke our tutor gave me the confidence that I could do this. We set about building a paddock and temporary goat house and in June 2018 we bought our first goats Choco and Mel.

At the same time my son decided to hatch his own ducks for his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award, so the incubator was purchased and the messiest, cutest little animals I have ever come across hatched. They were adorable and melted your heart, a second batch was hatched then one of the hens went broodie and hatched some more. Ducklings were addictive!

My daughter took the ducklings into her primary school and I was amazed how they transformed the mood of some of the children, amidst their excitement they were calm and gentle and as the sessions progressed their confidence grew.

I noticed that local groups and classes were starting to address emotional well-being for teens, but it seemed to me to be almost too late by then – we needed to start much sooner, to give our children the tools to sort things out for themselves – to build their resilience so that they can cope with life’s challenges and deal with unkindness or set-backs in a positive way. As these two threads in my life fused ‘huckleberries - a place to be me’ was conceived!

I asked my local primary school if they would be interested in inviting some of their children to mindfulness and yoga sessions at our smallholding alongside nurturing and looking after the animals. Their head teacher was supportive, and Stuart their ELSA came to visit and bought into the vision of what I was hoping to create. A yoga friend introduced me to Mairead who teaches children’s yoga, and between this collaboration of like-minded individuals we started to design a programme for primary aged children.

Funding was the next challenge and after google searching and following many false leads i started to come across funding that aligned with our objectives. But we were in a catch 22 situation as a key criterion for funding was that we needed to be ‘registered’ with our own bank account before they would consider us. Whilst I’d planned to set up Huckleberries as a social enterprise if the pilot was a success, this absence of structure was a key blocker. If we were going to be sustainable enough to make it to the next stage there was no alternative than to bring forward establishing as a Community Interest Company, which we did in March 2019.

It’s been an exciting year and next year promises not to disappoint - We had our first session with the children this week with 5 more planned, we are welcoming more children from another primary school as part of their well-being week this month, Mel and Choco are expecting their first kids in February, our cuddle rabbits Tommy and Fudge have settled in well (only chewing the satellite cable and installing a network of tunnels that resembles the London Underground in the garden), wellies and ideas continue to trickle in from the community, Mairead and Tamzin (a Forest School friend) have offered their help in running the sessions, and we have an amazing student on work experience doing a super job too. Our children are getting involved producing animal profiles, marketing and journal materials and lots of laminating! We have purchased an ex-hire bell tent, borrowed a stove, built a new goatpen, got insurance, written risk assessments, safeguarding policy and procedures, session plans and targets - We are ready to go!