The kids are alright

A working farm fills the gap in social care for young disabled kids and the elderly in Dorset says its founder.

Future Roots is a working farm in north Dorset which helps disabled youngsters and the elderly gain confidence, life skills and a sense of belonging, says a former Dorset social worker come social care pioneer.

Julie Plumley, a 50-year-old farmer’s daughter who grew up on a family farm in Twyford, near Shaftsbury worked for years with disadvantaged and disabled young people as a social worker.

She found that children, in particular disabled and disadvantaged children, were not nurtured by the education system. Those who could be practically or creatively very talented were not encouraged and as a result were left feeling outcast, left out and eventually depressed. “There seems to be less and less opportunity for young people to go out and be valued for a practical skill, they have to be kicked out of school to come and do what we’re doing!” she says.

She found this depression often being expressed as anger in young men. When she spoke with these individuals she found that the root of this depression lay in unresolved issues such as lack of belonging, stress and bullying amongst other problems. She felt more needed to be done at an earlier stage to help prevent these issues being manifested as mental health problems in later life.

She felt something better than the existing support networks available was needed. A working farm where disabled kids could enjoy many of the activities they may have missed in early childhood alongside learning important life skills was her dream. It took ten years of planning, raising capital and persuading her husband to realise that dream.

Six years on Future roots now takes on up to 100 youngsters a week of a variety of ages from schools all over Dorset and takes on those who have been expelled or suspended from schools. Mrs Plumley tells me “We do work with primary schools, which is about learning where their food comes from. We work with teenagers, helping their self-confidence to grow, helping to engage them back into the community, get them to feel like they can get into a job, that they’re valuable, that we want them!”

They have recently started the Countryman’s Club. They take on elderly men, who want an alternative to traditional day-care she says “We believe that this is a great opportunity for generations to learn together in the countryside.” She believes that “men in society are losing their place” and goes on to say that “day centres for older people are catered for women, the active man that has been building, gardening, farming; they want to be doing and there isn’t day-care for men”

Mrs Plumley has a clear and ever present passion for genuinely helping disadvantaged children develop into confident, skilled members of society and says “it is amazing when they come back years later to tell me how much we helped them develop, it’s really rewarding.” The commitment she has to the project is evident, she saw a gap in the education and care system which too many young people were slipping through and took matters into her own hands. Future Roots is six years old now and she believes that it still has so much more to give, “we have got to the point where we are 80% sustainable and 20% grant funded, but I still do all the paperwork at night, I work 7 days a week, I am not a business woman though” she says “we need “What’s-his-name Paphitis on board.”

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