Rob Barnett: Down on the Farm
Rob Barnett visited Heeley City Farm to find out the mental health benefits it offers to visitors and volunteers.
Heeley City Farm is a great place to go to put a smile on your face. And what’s more, it’s free!
The animals and friendly staff and volunteers offer a refreshing alternative to busy everyday life, even though the farm is so close to the city centre.
The goats, pigs, horses and sheep are accompanied by smaller creatures like rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs. It’s perfect for Sheffield Flourish’s ‘Pet Positivity’ theme.
While the farm is open every day of the year (except Xmas) for visitors, there are also opportunities to volunteer.
Staff member Aly Lalloo, who met me at the farm, says that volunteering there is an excellent way of improving mental health.
Aly, who is also responsible for volunteers, explained there are more than 100 volunteers and highlighted two who have benefited hugely.
First, a lady whose severe agoraphobia meant she hadn’t left her house for seven years before volunteering at the farm. She worked in the garden centre and flourished so much that she has become like a member of staff, helping at all the farm’s events.
Second, a man who was treated very badly by his employer while he was in a high-power job, resulting in him having a breakdown from work-related stress. He started volunteering at the farm and, as his confidence grew, increased his involvement there. He subsequently returned to full-time work in a new career.
Sitting at her desk, Aly told me: “That’s the success. You don’t have to refer yourself. People can come as a volunteer and it’s up to them to reveal what they’re going through or what issues there might be for them. You haven’t got that barrier, having to come here and say all these things, which people can’t say or sometimes don’t want to.
“It’s lovely for us when we see things like that happen. It makes us feel so good. The two volunteers I’ve talked about, we couldn’t do without them now because they’ve become key members of the farm and they’re doing real work with a real purpose.”
Besides the main site at Heeley, the farm has others, mainly for growing produce, at Low Edges, Norfolk Park and Firth Park.
Aly says that for some people who are starting out on their mental health recovery, just going to one of these sites for the first time can be a big step.
She believes that returning to help grow produce, with the final reward of being able to harvest and take things home, is hugely beneficial.
“That’s key for people, seeing the seasons and seeing things through, that’s something that really improves people’s wellbeing,” she adds.