The Urban Farm joins forces with the Prince's Countryside Fund
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 December 2014
Two young women with a passion for animals are taking their farm to schools and care homes to spread knowledge - and a little happiness
When Rachael Heatley and her business partner Sarah Liggett took their miniature cow to meet pupils at an urban school, some of the kids were a bit puzzled.
‘It was surprising - several of them thought it was a horse,’ says Rachael. ‘When we talked to them about our animals a few said they thought baby pigs were called guinea pigs.’
The lack of knowledge about the countryside and what goes on there is one of the problems being tackled by the Prince’s Countryside Fund. Its campaign, supported by Lancashire Life, promotes awareness of rural life and provides practical help to maintain employment and retain traditional skills.
One of its latest bursaries, providing a year’s free use of a Freelander 2, has been awarded to Rachael and Sarah to help with their new business, Urban Farm.
The two young women, who share a keen interest in animal welfare, met as students at Myerscough College. ‘We wanted to set up a petting farm but the cost of that meant it wasn’t possible,’ said 26-year-old Rachael, who is from Blackburn. ‘Then we had the idea of a mobile farm and that just took off.’
They had spotted a gap in the market created by financial pressures and the health and safety red tape imposed on schools. ‘When I was at school we had regular trips out,’ said Rachael. ‘For many, that’s a thing of the past because of things like risk assessments so we thought it could work if, instead of them going to a farm, we took the farm to them.’
Rachael and Sarah, who is 25 and lives in Wigan, have two Shetland ponies, a cow, pigs, sheep, pygmy goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits which have been specially selected because they are used to being around people.
‘We have been very careful to chose animals that respond well to being with people. For instance, our sheep were bottle fed, our ponies came from a petting farm and the piglets roll over and then follow you around like dogs!’
While it’s fun for the children, the two women are keen to get the message across about rural life and, importantly, to help children understand where their food comes from.
‘It also has a therapeutic effect,’ said Rachael. ‘There has been a lot of research showing that being with animals can help children with autism and we had one recent example. We took some chickens to a school and the teachers were amazed by one boy, who never spoke. When he saw the chicken he didn’t stop chattering all day. His mother was delighted.’
The Urban Farm also visits care homes and hospices. ‘It works for older people, too. We went to a nursing home and one elderly lady who we were told was always fairly grumpy couldn’t stop smiling when we showed her the rabbits.’
The Land Rover bursary will solve their transport problems and make life easier for Rachael to get to the fields beside Sarah’s home where they keep their animals.
‘We filled in the forms for the bursary but we thought it was a bit like the lottery – you do it but you know you’re not going to win. It’s very exciting to have been selected.’
Running the Urban Farm is not without its funny moments. ‘The children find it particularly amusing when one of the animals needs to go to the toilet!’ said Rachael.
For more information about the business contact Rachael or Sarah via firstname.lastname@example.org
The Prince’s Countryside Fund and Land Rover have combined forces for the second year running to award The Land Rover Bursary which gives rural enterprises and communities a much-needed lifeline to remain viable and grow.
The Land Rover Bursary serves to award the rising stars of rural Britain and recognise their efforts to revitalise British countryside communities. The scheme, part of a three-year partnership with The Prince’s Countryside Fund offers a bursary to five individuals or groups who can demonstrate that the use of a Freelander 2 for a year would enable them to support their rural community and contribute to the viability and sustainability of rural Britain.