From Farm Volunteer to University Undergraduate
Last week, Farm CEO Kate was lucky enough to run into a wonderful young person who used to attend the Farm as a volunteer from the age of 11 – 18 years old (Seven years is a pretty good stint!) She is now at the end of her 4th year of veterinary school at a very prestigious university. She spoke to Kate about how much coming to the Farm helped her 'feel normal' despite her diagnoses (ASD and ADHD which effected her mental health and feelings of belonging especially whilst at secondary school), and how it ultimately helped her reach her goal of working with animals alongside assisting with her wellbeing and mental health journey.
Our friend helping the Farm vet administer medicine to a poorly goat during a recent visit.
Kate Gibbs (KG): What made you first come to the Farm?
Volunteer (V): “I first came to the Farm because I wanted to go into veterinary medicine, so I wanted to do something that involved animals on the regular. The Farm is close by and has lots of animals so it felt like the best place. Ultimately it was my mams decision because it was also supportive of my disabilities. I think I would have been a lot more stressed going to another place that wasn’t set up for that”.
KG: When you say disabilities, could you explain that a little more?
V: “I’m autistic and have since been diagnosed with ADHD and social anxiety. It just made it harder for me to start doing new things because I’d get so nervous about going to new places. I struggled a bit more interacting with other kids my own age. I got on alright with kids a lot younger than me and adults but I really struggled with kids my own age. Just because I didn’t socialise in a way they expected and basically had no social skills, so I really struggled a lot in school with that. But here I found people were generally a bit more accepting of me just being a bit odd.
It was knowing that I wasn’t in a space where people would react negatively to me just being how I was and how I am. It was helpful also being able to socialise with other kids. Like I wasn’t going to be forced to be around if they didn’t like me but also who themselves were more accepting just because of the environment that we were in and also that a lot of other kids here were similar to me as well. So that helped a lot”.
KG: Do you remember your first day at the Farm?
V: “Yes! I remember I was really scared on my first day because it was lots of new people. I think I remember talking to someone before and they said, yeah you look really terrified when you first came in. I think my first job was turning compost. Everyone was like oh no you’ve got the worst job but it was alright actually, I didn’t mind it”.
KG: Aside from turning compost, what other skills did the Farm teach you?
V: “It generally helped me with my confidence around animals. I think just being around animals and getting an idea of just how animals behave. You know, they’ll be scared of you if you run towards them but if you approach them more slowly they’ll be ok. Just learning that intuitively helped me then apply it better when I was learning in vet school.
We also got to visit a sheep farm in Margam a couple of times and learn about lambing. They talked us through it and I actually got to help a lamb being born. That was my first time doing a lambing and it really gave me the confidence when I had to do it in vet school. It also made me more certain in that this is what interests me and I definitely did want to go into vet medicine".
KG: Did your Farm experience help you with your application to Universities?
V: "Depending on which Uni you go to, you have to have a lot of experience before you go such as animal husbandry and work in some clinics so the Farm gave me the hours I needed to apply. It built up my animal husbandry but also gave me connections to other places I could do animal husbandry as well. Like the farm in Margam as I got a few days experience there.
I also got help from staff at the Farm with some of my grant applications as some of the Uni’s do grants for people who have done volunteering, specifically who have worked in nature and conservation so this counted towards that and I got a grant towards my first three years. Because of that plus my maintenance loan I was able to not really worry too much. I made sure I got things that were healthy and it meant I didn’t worry too much because I knew I had the money to cover it.”
KG: Overall, how would you say the Farm helped you in your quest towards getting into the University of your choice?
V: “Being here helped my confidence and interacting with people and with animals. I did some courses here as well actually. Food hygiene and an animal behaviour course and the equine behaviour. They were really helpful both for improving my confidence with animals to go on my application but also they were just fun to do. You know, just learning about animals behaviour is just really interesting – I really enjoyed it”.
KG: And how has it helped you in other ways?
V: “I am much better at making friends my own age now and I feel more confident doing so. I think definitely a part of that has been coming to the Farm and making friends my own age and not feeling so stressed about it because people here were generally more accepting of me making mistakes socially and sort of picking yourself up and trying again. You know at school you make mistakes and they’re not going to be your friends anymore.
It’s also good exercise. I did a lot of grounds stuff and was pretty much my only source of exercise throughout comp because I’d stopped doing the sports clubs I was doing in primary because I was too shy to join the ones in comp. And it was also just nice to just build stuff and have it be made and you did it like the forest den, and doing little arts and crafts that we’d sell”.
KG: So how did it improve your wellbeing?
V: “I think part of it was getting me outdoors. We would have just spent all day indoors if I hadn’t come here. Just playing video games and stuff, which is fun but if I don’t go outdoors I get miserable. Being outdoors and near animals and plants, spending time around people especially in the holidays when I wasn’t in school and I wasn’t really around any of my friends. For big stretches of time I’d get really depressed but I’d keep coming here every Saturday and then on the playschemes on Fridays and that would keep me socialising with people and seeing people regularly and that was very helpful for my mental health. Seeing animals helps a lot, holding chickens, seeing the sheep".
CEO Kate finishes off by saying: ‘I forget sometimes, having been doing this so long, that you never know how exactly you are helping people. I have a poster on my desk saying 'When you let your own light shine you unconsciously give others permission to do the same', that can take many forms. Sometimes it's telling a shy teen that yes, it's ok to be yourself and a massive animal nerd. Yes, over the years, I taught her about animals, equine behaviour, and how to make a banging cheese toasty on a campfire but she mostly remembers what a weirdo I am and how that made her concept of normal a bit wider. It was the best insult-compliment I have ever received’.
If you're interested in volunteering at the Farm, please do get in touch. You can email us email@example.com or call 01792 578384.
A special thank you goes out to some of our funders for the essential funding that makes journeys like this possible: National Lottery Community Fund Wales and West Glamorgan Regional Partnership Fund.