THE North of England is at the forefront of ambitious plans to expand care farming across the country.

An event held at Askham Bryan College near York last month brought together people running care farms with representatives of the health and educational sectors to hear about the £1.4 million Growing Care Farm Project.

Its organisers chose Yorkshire and Humberside as the first region to 'go live' partly because of an existing informal care-farming network. The North-East and the North-West will be the next regions to join the national initiative next year.

Care farming uses farming activities and the therapeutic effect of being in the outdoors to bring benefits to a wide range of people. About three-quarters of care farms support people with mental ill-health.

The Growing Care Farming project to expand the sector is funded by the Department of Education, supported by Defra - which has called for care-farm places to be trebled to 1.3 million across the UK by 2023 - and managed by Natural England. It is being run by the charity Social Farms & Gardens, in partnership with another charity, Thrive.

As well as expanding the sector the project aims to provide central support and to help with areas such as quality control and training.

Rachel Bragg, care farming development manager, said the mix of people at the Yorkshire pilot meeting included people who were running care farms, those who were thinking of going into the sector, and representatives of organisations which commission services from care farms, such as the health, social care and special education sectors.

"That's really great, because we can't work together to grow care farming in Yorkshire and Humberside without everybody being involved."

Dr Bragg told the audience that care farming had 'multiple outcomes' for users, bringing improvements to their mental and physical health, plus increased feelings of confidence and self-worth. "People tell us that care farming has changed their lives, which is really quite profound and exciting," she said.

It was also educational, with users learning new skills while working on the farms. "Care farming is quite enjoyable," she added. "People like to go back."

In addition they could reduce the strain on statutory services such as the NHS, and were 'a great opportunity' for social prescribing'.

"For farmers and landowners it offers an alternative way for farmers to use their farm. You need the farming in order to the care farming."

Describing the project, she said: "It's really an opportunity to transform the scale of care farming in England."

Deborah Evans, regional care farming manager, said: "We want existing care farmers to support each other and also those who are looking to start up."

She stressed the importance of the networks being formed as part of the project, adding: "The partnerships we build up now across all the regions will outlast any projects we run."

Sarah Marrison, regional support officer (North), said: "We seem to have real interest in this region, particularly from people who are prospective care farmers. That's really great news for this region."

The event also heard from members of the audience from different sides of care farming, including providers and people from the voluntary and community sector and special education.

One of those attending was Robin Asquith, care farm manager for the Camphill Village Trust at Botton Village in the North York Moors. He said the Camphill Village Trust started in 1955, and he had been a Nuffield Scholar looking at care farming around the world, but there had been a big increase in awareness in recent years.

Mr Asquith, who is a key member of the existing informal care-farming network in Yorkshire, said they could share their experience with others coming into the sector, adding the biggest mistake he had seen was when people did not ensure their care farm was sustainable for the future.

His colleague Claire Moore, who is agricultural lead at Botton Village, has recently won a national award for her work there.

She said: "When you see the benefits people get it makes every day worthwhile."

* For more information and resources about the Growing Care Farming project go to