With the return of schools and workplaces in September, there is a feeling that the country is finally springing back to normal life after 18 months of restrictions. Despite this optimism, October marks the beginning of difficult winter ahead for working families across the UK. The impact of rising energy costs and the end of the furlough scheme has been made worse by the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit, which will hit millions of households. This cut, the biggest drop in benefits income for working families since 2010, comes at a time of rising child poverty, particularly in the North East. In the last 5 years, the region has seen a dramatic increase in relative child poverty, rising from 26 % to 37%. It means that during this period, the North East has gone from having a child poverty rate just below the UK average to the second highest of any region or nation.
At Ouseburn Farm, we believe that education plays a pivotal role in tackling rising child poverty. In support of this, we provide a free-to-enter educational experience where children can learn about the world around them. By coming to the Farm, visitors tell us that children gain an understanding of “planting procedures”, “how animals contribute to our system” and “what the daily work of a Farm entails”. The value in this experience is that it exists outside of formal education, where learning can often be too structured and not focused enough on the world we live in. This is a key way we address learning loss in children too, an issue we should all be concerned about considering primary school pupils have lost up to two months of learning in reading and three months in maths due to the pandemic. Here at the farm, we support the age-groups most affected by learning loss, with children in the Early Years accounting for 38% of all children who visit the Farm.
We also believe that providing children with physical activity is crucial in addressing rising child poverty, by providing benefits to their mental health. As a community-centred green space, visitors tells us that the Farm offers a setting where children can “move about freely” and “get away when things get on top of them”. This is especially beneficial to the most disadvantaged children, who often lack access to such spaces living in the city. Visiting the Farm equally gives children the opportunity to socialise and interact with each other, something that was desperately missed during months of lockdown. Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, stressed the importance of social experiences such as this when she talked of how “activities beyond the classroom” could help children regain the “soft skills” lost due to the pandemic.
The farm is open for free Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 3pm and our gates are open to everyone in our community so please come visit and spread the word.
Image 1: Visitors accessing Ouseburn Farm for free and enjoying our willow den.
Image 2: Comments from children visiting the farm as part of research in 2020.
Image 3: Festival-goers to 2021 Ouseburn Family Pride - a free, inclusive event hosted by Northern Pride in partnership with Ouseburn Farm and others in the Valley.
BBC NEWS. 2021. Universal credit: Devolved governments join calls to keep £20 top-up. [Online]. [Accessed 14th September 2021]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58384578
Sky News. 2021. Removal of Universal Credit uplift will hit working families hard, with carers and hairdressers among the worst off. [Online]. [Accessed 13th September 2021]. Available from: https://news.sky.com/story/removal-of-universal-credit-uplift-will-hit-working-families-hard-with-carers-shop-workers-and-hairdressers-among-the-worst-off-12400255
The Guardian. 2021. Dire poverty in north-east England ‘driving many more children into care’. [Online]. [Accessed 15th September 2021]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jul/28/shameful-levels-of-poverty-in-north-east-of-england-driving-rise-in-child-protection-cases
Agar, H. Hall, F. Fisher, S. 2020. HOW DOES A FREE-TO-ENTER CITY FARM HELP TO ADDRESS CHILD POVERTY AND SOCIAL MOBILITY IN THE NORTH EAST?. [Online]. School of Geography, Politics & Sociology, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne. [Accessed 15th September 2021]. Available from: https://drive.google.com/drive/my-drive
BBC NEWS. 2021. Boris Johnson promises more school catch-up cash in 'damp squib' row. [Online]. [Accessed 15th September 2021]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-57320450
tes. 2021. Ofsted: Make time for clubs and sport, schools told. [Online]. [Accessed 15th September 2021]. Available from: https://www.tes.com/news/ofsted-amanda-spielman-make-time-clubs-and-sport-schools-told