Harper Adams University: Impact of agricultural experiences on city children to be examined in unique research project

The impact that experiencing agriculture can have on city children will be examined – thanks to a unique research project at Harper Adams University.

The University has worked with the Farms for City Children charity and the Worshipful Company of Butchers to develop a funded Master of Research (MRes) studentship in Agricultural Education, which will evaluate the charity’s work educating young people about agriculture and food and encouraging them to consider careers in related industries.

Farms for City Children, founded by author Sir Michael Morpurgo and his wife, Lady Morpurgo, works to bring children from cities to farms in Devon, Gloucestershire and Pembrokeshire. Each visit is designed to build children’s self-confidence and self-worth as they work as a team on the farm.

Chief Executive Officer at Farms for City Children, Donna Marie Edmonds, began to formulate the idea which became the research post while as a lunch guest of Margaret Boanas, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers in London.

At Margaret’s suggestion, Donna spoke with the WCB’s Bob Bansback – who is also an Honorary Professor at Harper Adams.

She said: “We talked about the need for strong partnerships between the third sector and tertiary education, and the need for high-quality evaluative research to drive forward the change needed in charitable offers.

“We were both motivated by looking at the role to be played by urban children as the future generation workforce in food and farming jobs.

“Young people cannot care about that which they do not know or connect with, and therefore offers like Farms for City Children are playing an important role in showing urban children that they can connect powerfully to the countryside – and that they could choose to live in it and work in it some day.

“Bob took this conversation back to Harper Adams and it chimed with their strategic priorities in agricultural education.”

As discussions continued, the idea of developing an MRes studentship to examine and evaluate Farms for City Children’s activities began to take shape – with Harper Adams lecturers Claire Toogood and Claire Robertson meeting with Donna to work out how this would be structured. Bob was then able to present their proposal to the Worshipful Company of Butchers – who chose to fund the course fees for this MRes as part of their philanthropic activities.

Donna added: “It was an opportune, stars-aligning partnership of friends coming together with powerful shared values.”

And Margaret Boanas added: “The WCB are delighted to support this research proposal and I greatly look forward to seeing how it progresses.”

Talking about her work developing this opportunity, Harper Adams lecturer Claire Toogood said: “I have really enjoyed the process of working collaboratively with Donna to establish this MRes.

“It’s exciting to be able to provide a unique opportunity for a research student, supported by the funding from the Worshipful Company of Butchers.

“The completed research project will provide invaluable information to Farms for City Children, and inform the shape and effectiveness their activities going forward.”

The successful applicant for the MRes will work with Farms for City Children, capturing high quality, independent evidence about the impact of their activities – which involve thousands of children each year.

Donna added: “We believe that a week on our farm enables children and young people to experience increased learning and engagement, improved connections and wellbeing and have an enhanced sense of environmental citizenship.

“We want our food, farming, and outdoor education offer to be exemplary, benefitting all of the children who visit one of our three farms.

“To ensure that high standards are maintained, and that the offer continues to evolve, we need to capture meaningful data about where our offer has the greatest effect on the beneficiaries.

“This MRes role needs someone with energy, optimism and a strong belief in the principle that urban children have a right to engage meaningfully with the countryside – and that they should see their future being connected to it beyond leisure time.”

And Claire added: “The right candidate could come from a range of backgrounds – agriculture, land-based studies, outdoor or nature education, early childhood studies, education, or related fields, and I would encourage anyone interested in this opportunity to get in touch for a discussion.”

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