Bringing Nature Home – Can urban growing help children to do better at school?

27 Oct 2021

Health professionals increasingly recognize the value of farm and garden-scale urban agriculture. Growing food and non-food crops in cities contribute to healthy communities by engaging residents and visitors in work and recreation that improves individual and public well-being.

One of these city growing spaces is Oasis Farm Waterloo which is an urban farm in the heart of London Waterloo. I joined the farm 5 years ago as a volunteer, and together we have transformed a strip of wasteland into a flourishing community resource and a haven for nature. This is a space where we learn to care for ourselves, others, plants, animals, and the environment.

The Farm is run by two charities, Oasis Hub Waterloo and Jamie’s Farm. Jamie’s Farm is a national charity which transforms children’s lives through their ‘Farming, Family & Therapy’ programme. This sees vulnerable and disadvantaged young people come to the farm and help with caring for the garden and animals, alongside cooking and sharing food together. Pupils increase their self-esteem, resilience and communication skills as they learn to practice self-care and care of others.

Oasis Hub Waterloo is a charity that works in the local community, engaging and supporting people through a range of different projects: a food bank, debt advice centre, youth team, play centre and much more besides, including Oasis Farm Waterloo. The Farm is a place where local people can visit, volunteer, bring their families and meet new friends, all with the aim of increasing physical and mental wellbeing and social cohesion, and connecting more with the natural world.

We use the theme of food and farming to help young people feel more connected and empowered to reach their full potential. We open the doors to local residents and visitors, organising events where kids and young people can engage with the animals, participate in garden activities or just enjoy this nice calming space in the heart of Waterloo.

“Every Wednesday I always look forward to coming back to the farm. You always keep us safe and make us feel welcome. You do so much for me and are really nice people to be around. It’s nice having people to talk to and it makes me feel good when you understand. The people around me make me feel needed and I always want to stay longer. It makes us learn good things. We have learnt different skills that will make us feel good throughout life.”
– Harris Academy Battersea Pupil, Aged 10

The farm’s school programme focuses on working with disadvantaged pupils. From our surveys with teachers and young people we clearly see that the time spent on the farm, doing gardening activities, interacting with animals have an impact on their lives. Quite remarkable transformations happen in students who otherwise present some quite challenging and complex behaviour and social and emotional difficulties. The skills that were developed have had a lasting impact at school both in terms of academic progress but also in terms of behaviour improvement.

Through tracking academic achievement across core subjects, it is clear, that pupils have made steady progress and in some cases their progress exceeds expectations. Teachers and accompanying adults are often astounded by the transformation children make, adapting in the new environment and taking lessons about themselves back to their lives at home. This means vulnerable young people will be better equipped to thrive during secondary school years and beyond.

After visiting our farm on a regular basis, we find that:

  1. There is a 79% reported improvement in self-esteem.
  2. Prior to visiting the Farm, 71% of pupils were not on track in core subjects. After visiting the Farm, the number not on track decreased to 49%, with 32% now on track and 19% exceeding their expected attainment.

These results demonstrate the transformation young people can experience through gardening, food growing and animal care.

If you are interested in our urban farming activities or events, please follow these links: