Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Troubled children helped by Hampshire farm

Boy on the farm
Image caption The young people on the scheme spend one morning a week on the farm

A Hampshire farm is embarking on a new barn conversion with the help of young people potentially at risk of committing crimes.

It is the latest stage of a project giving vulnerable youngsters a taste of life on Isnage Farm - a working organic farm near Petersfield.

The work is part of a Wessex Youth Offending Team scheme to prevent future bad behaviour.

Farmer Rowan Downing described it as "such a worthwhile thing".

'Half-asleep'

Ms Downing, 62, has been farming the 300 acres of pasture and arable land for the past 20 years, converting to organic agriculture five years ago.

The youth scheme is part of her attempts to diversify income sources for the farm.

More than 20 young people around the Petersfield and Alton areas have worked on the farm for up to 12 weeks.

Of her initial meeting with the first group she said: "They were half-asleep, unintelligible and looked half dead."

"They have no pattern in their lives, lack confidence and don't know the rules in life. But they learn to work as a team and organise themselves."

The young people are chosen because they have had brushes with the law or are at risk of exclusion from school.

Youth crime prevention officer, Laura Crassweller, said: "There is always a marked change in their self esteem a couple of weeks into the project. By the end, they are fully engaged doing things they never thought they would."

Ms Crassweller insisted the approach saved money in the long term, as improving the children's confidence in school, could keep them out of the criminal justice system later she said.

"They are the vulnerable ones who are struggling. This is giving them the opportunity to improve," she said.

Image caption The barn is being refurbished by the teenagers on the scheme

Ms Crassweller described how one girl, Fiona, 12, was not attending school and had very low self esteem.

"She gained confidence in communicating with her peers and adults and confidence in her own ability to try new things," she said.

"She is now back in school, attending all lessons and is attending after-school clubs trying her hand at new skills."

The latest project the children are getting involved with is turning an old barn into a base for indoor activities.

Local builders are helping the teenagers learn skills in building, insulation and painting.

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