A COMMUNITY farm set up more than 10 years ago has become an "asset" for the area and is helping to inspire the next generation to care for the environment around them.

River Bourne Community Farm in Laverstock was set up by Ben Parker MBE and opened as a community interest company in 2010 with the aim of creating a working farm where the community could reconnect with the rural environment.

Over the years it has grown and developed, enhancing the opportunities offered to youngsters at its education centre.

Sara-Jane Hancock, the education and marketing manager at the farm, says "education is at the heart of what we do".

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While there were periods during the pandemic where the farm was unable to have some of its pupils it did open its doors to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

River Bourne Community Farm has also been able to expand its alternative education provision to provide more places for local young people. Secondary students come to the site once or twice a week and work towards gaining a GCSE equivalent qualification in animal care or countryside skills.

It now runs educational programmes for primary school pupils.

"We just did secondary education for many years but just before lockdown we expanded that provision to primary schools who are able to send pupils to us one morning a week," explains Sara-Jane.

"The demand for our education has really picked up during and since Covid. People are finally appreciating the benefits of outdoor education.

"We've always felt passionate about it and, with children spending so much time inside in front of screens, being outside is extremely therapeutic.

"We know that outdoor education has proven benefits for mental health, self esteem, wellbeing and confidence building. It is not just about gaining qualifications, although that is important to us too. It has many other benefits which we see every day of the week."

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Young people participating in the educational programmes can get involved in the running of the farm, helping with feeding and caring for the animals as well as maintenance on site for example putting up fencing or building shelters.

Horticulture, agricultural and conservation are also key elements of study.

"Very much what we want to do is engage with them in the outdoor environment they live in. If they care about it now, they grow up to be adults that care about it and care about animals," continues Sara-Jane.

When the farm was first opened more than 10 years ago there were only a few buildings on the site, which was very overgrown.

But now it has been transformed and boasts classrooms and even an aviary for the wide variety of birds it houses.

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Golden pheasant Trump 

Last year, the long barn was renovated to include an additional teaching space. There are now separate teaching spaces for the secondary and primary school pupils.

The farm has also welcomed more and more animals over the years - which give students an opportunity to work with as many different kinds of animals of possible.

It is home to Highland cows, sheep, pigs, donkeys, chickens, goats (who love exercising on their own trampolines), rabbits, guinea pigs and even miniature donkeys to name just a few of the residents.

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Although the pandemic has brought challenges for the farm it has continued to run and fulfil its original aims from when it was first started.

"What we are still proud of is that we are still going. We still very much stick to the initial aims of the farm. Part of that consideration was to be an outdoor education centre and being a community space," said Sara-Jane.

As well as providing a space for the community and educational facilities, it also has volunteering opportunities. The farm also hopes to hold more community events with plans for Live@The Farm to return later this year.

"We are just trying to improve and make it a nicer visitor experience and better student experience and make sure it is a good place for people to come to visit. There are not many place in Salisbury where you can bring young children for free.

"It is a wonderful asset for the community and for Salisbury as a whole."

The farm is free to visit. For more information go to: riverbournecommunityfarm.org.uk

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