OUR STORIES

Our unique methods really work. We are amazed daily by the positive impact our inspiring coaches, intuitive animals and invigorating outdoor environments and activities have on our learners’ lives. But don’t just let us be the judge. Let our learners explain how they have begun to rewrite their life stories at The Seeds of Change.

1 Underlining County Lines

#CountyLines #exploitation #grooming

County Lines and Child Exploitation through criminal activity are hot topics right now. News broadcasters are regularly talking about how police forces nationwide are working to combat these issues, how they are a wide-spread problem, and are affecting provincial areas as well as large metropolitan zones. But do the general public, parents, and others in charge of children, really understand what it all means?

Gangs are deliberately targeting children in our communities – those who are homeless, living in care homes or trapped. These children are unsafe, unloved, or unable to cope, and the gangs take advantage of this. Other children at risk are those who are unsure of their sexual identity, those who socially lack confidence or are deemed ‘loners’.

Gangs groom, threaten or trick children into trafficking their drugs for them. They might threaten a young person physically, or they might threaten the young person’s family members. The gangs might also offer something in return for the young person’s cooperation – it could be money, food, alcohol, drugs, clothes and jewellery, or improved status – but the giving of these gifts will usually be manipulated so that the child feels they are in debt to their exploiter.  Invariably they become trapped in county lines, and feel as if they have no choice but to continue doing what the gangs want.

The Children’s Commissioner believes that there are at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity. It is estimated that around 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being exploited through child criminal exploitation, or 'county lines'. These gangs are now active in our towns, communities and schools.

Tragically the young people exploited through county lines can often be seen by professionals as criminals. In our experience, we know that these young people truly are victims of manipulation and exploitation with deep-rooted issues.

ZOE’S* STORY

Zoe has been embedded in the care system for most of her life after the breakdown of the relationship with her birth family.

*Name altered for anonymity

ZOE’S* STORY

Foster placements had deteriorated due to her erratic behaviour and constant need to abscond, which ultimately resulted in her being placed in children’s homes and secure units within them to prevent her from running away.

“I ran away over 200 times”, revealed Zoe. “I just did not feel safe in my care home and I felt no real sense of belonging to anyone”.

This behaviour continued until her ‘boyfriend’ came on the scene. He was someone who showed her some ‘love and care’. “He showered attention on me, brought me gifts, took me away to hotels and gave me the special treatment”, she disclosed.

Her 'boyfriend' was in care in London and a county lines drug runner who made frequent trips to the Bedford area. “I believed that he was in love with me, but there were times where his behaviour towards me would make me angry and upset”, she added. “He called me his ‘best girl’, but he would also say that to other girls too. Because I had low self-confidence, I kept on going back to him”.

Zoe claims that she was never asked to look after drugs for him, or sell them for him.

Zoe was referred to The Seeds of Change following her refusal to attend any formal education setting. Initially her demeanour and attitude were closed and she found eye contact difficult. She was also very concerned with her appearance and wanting to look good.

As her one-to-one sessions progressed, she relaxed and cared less about her appearance. “The horse made me feel more comfortable in myself, I know that it didn’t care what I looked like and wouldn’t judge me on my past,” she added. “It just wants my love and time.”

Her ability to build and develop healthy and positive relationships with others was growing, and she often said to her coach that she felt listened to, valued, and worthy. “The horse calms me down, makes me feel more chilled, and helps me to focus my mind on what is important”, Zoe said. She continued, “It gives me time away from reality, and helps me to realise that there is more I could be doing with my life”.

Zoe has continued to progress at The Seeds of Change and is completing a City and Guilds Employability qualification. She has also started to attend another alternative provision which is going well. Her personal life has also improved; she is now in a stable foster home and trying to steer clear of disruptive and manipulative influences in her life.

If you would like to find out more about these issues, please consider attending our upcoming event on County Lines and Child Exploitation. To view more information and to book your place, please follow this link

2 Moving on to brighter futures

#AngerManagement #MentalHealth #MovingOn

We work closely in partnership with our learners’ carers, schools or referring bodies to ensure that when our learners eventually move on from The Seeds of Change to (re-)enter mainstream education, further education or the world of work, they are equipped with the support, skills, knowledge, experience, coping strategies and self-belief necessary to make a success of their next steps.

LEAH'S STORY

From the age of seven I’d always had issues with my anger and being able to control my emotions. I’d started riding lessons when I was six and realised I loved horses; they were used as an incentive for me to be good at school and at home and if I behaved I was allowed to go to my riding lesson.


I moved around several primary schools and middle schools and was eventually arrested at age 13. I was kicked out of school and had home tutoring arranged, but by this point I didn’t want to know and I certainly didn’t engage. I was put into a mainstream upper school but I pushed the boundaries from the day I arrived; eventually I was excluded and moved onto yet another school. In total I attended seven schools, five mainstream and two Pupil Referral Units.

I had never had a stable relationship with my dad; he was always in and out of my life. My mum and I always seemed to clash and it’s fair to say that my behaviour in school put added pressure on our relationship.

It was in year 10 that I was finally excluded from mainstream school and attended a local PRU. When you get kicked out people say to you, ‘oh people will look at you and see where you’ve been to school and will just see you as trouble’. I felt like I’d been written off.

A friend I made at this new school attended The Seeds of Change and I thought to myself that this would be good for me too. My school agreed for me to go as long as I attended regularly.

My school also listened when I said there was something wrong, something more than just feeling out of control, and it was with its support that I was referred back to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) and subsequently into adult mental health services who continue to support me to live life to the fullest.
 

"People often see those like me as a problem child, when really we are just children with a problem."

LEAH’S STORY

For me, The Seeds of Change is where everything started to click into place, where I realised that things can change and that working with horses was what I hoped for my future.

When I was there I had my little moments, but nothing like I did at school. I think this is because I was doing something I enjoyed and I wasn’t stuck in a classroom environment all the time.

I met a pony called George, he reminded me of myself, just in horse form. I’d always wake up on a Monday feeling happy because I knew I was coming to The Seeds of Change. When I realised the coaches were there to help me and not against me, when I realised they only wanted what was best and that they were helping me and wanted to get me set up for the future, I let my guard down. I could talk to them about my personal life without judgement. I could share details of a difficult relationship without being told off. It was like an escape; an escape from everything; home, school, and my abusive ex-boyfriend.

Something just clicked one day. I knew something had to change and taking responsibility for my own actions was something I had to start doing. The coaches were there for me each week, allowed me to talk through anything I needed to and found ways to support me.

Through working with George, I learnt, like horses, sometimes I needed a break, a space to just ‘be’ and take a breath and relax for a moment. I’d never done this before and I certainly didn’t understand how helpful it could be. Knowing I had a plan and a strategy I could use when things got tough really helped. Sometimes that break was just three minutes stood with George, watching him just be himself.

George was quite funny with people; he’d pick and choose who he liked and who was allowed to come into his space - just like me! We built up enough trust in each other for him to allow me near him when he was lying down, a trust that I soon realised could be gained with any horse and probably any person if I considered my behaviour and how it was being reflected back to me.

I spent a year at The Seeds of Change and in that time not only did I learn about myself and what I hoped for my future, I also achieved a City of Guilds qualification in Landbased Studies.

That qualification allowed me to start at mainstream college, studying a Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Horse Care and Management. I’d left school with only one GCSE in Maths, but the qualification I’d gained at The Seeds of Change meant the college was happy to take me because I had a starting point. I retook my English GCSE and passed with a grade C.

I left college with Level 3 Advanced Technical Diploma in Equine Management with Merit and have just been offered my dream job working for a high end private event yard. Looking back, this is not something I ever thought I would achieve. I now live with my grandparents, my relationship with my mum has improved massively and I’m no longer in an abusive relationship.

People often see those like me as a problem child, when really we are just children with a problem. The Seeds of Change understood that and with their support and understanding they helped me move forward and set me up for my future. It was undoubtedly my changing point and without that opportunity I don’t think I’d be where I am today.

 

3 Working with Care Farms

#City&Guilds #employability #CareFarms

Our courses, whether therapeutic or academic, focus on using outdoor environments to stimulate personal awareness, confidence and growth. We frequently use horses to assist this process, but just being outside in the fresh air, away from places of insecurity, gives our learners the freedom to grow, learn and breath.

We handwrite all our courses with flexibility in mind, so they are adjustable to a learner’s needs and transferable into any outdoor, rural setting.

Consequently, we have had great success introducing our City & Guilds courses into Care Farms across the UK, whose facilities and audiences have a slightly different focus to our own, but whose learning environments share many parallels.

FarmAbilty, one such Care Farm based in Oxford, has partnered with us to deliver our City and Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Employability course to its learners, leading to a 100% pass rate.

“Our learners did an ASDAN qualification before, but City & Guilds is much better as it’s meaty and meaningful”, says Liv at FarmAbilty.

Ultimately, this course is gearing learners up for the next phase in their life, outside the realms of support or education. It is about enabling learners to pick up practical skills which will give them the confidence to enter the world of work, whether it be voluntary or paid, and to become more independent.  “It’s a qualification that is well recognised which is good for learner’s pride and their desire to engage and achieve,” adds Liv.

FarmAbility offers outdoor, farm-based programmes of animal husbandry, horticulture and seasonal tasks for adults with autism and learning disabilities. It was important that the course was adaptable to meet the specific needs of FarmAbility’s learners.  “Amy from The Seeds of Change has worked with us to ensure that the units meet our learners’ needs.  The flexibility and support has been really positive and the team has been really brilliant, helpful and open”, says Liv.

She continues, “The course has also helped our reputation. We have been able to tell others that we are offering a City & Guilds course which gives us more credibility as a Centre and has raised our profile with visitors and supporters. It has also given our sessions more structure and focus which benefits everyone.”

LUKE’S STORY

Luke successfully completed the new City & Guilds course at FarmAbility with 100% attendance. As well as providing him with a credible qualification, the course has helped him to focus his thoughts on his future and career choices. Additionally, it has increased his awareness and confidence, and he is now able to openly discuss his positive skills and traits, a really significant change for him. What’s more, the course has inspired him to take on an online Maths and English course which he hopes will be a stepping stone towards a career in gaming design; this is the first time he has engaged in formal education since he was 11!

The course has been very successful with 100% of FarmAbility’s learners completing the qualification and achieving an Entry Level 2 Certificate in Employability Skills.

 

4 Overcoming bullying

#bullying #anxiety #disengagement

Unfortunately we see cases of severe bullying and its lasting and devastating effects daily. Whether it is emotional or physical abuse; in school, at home, on the streets or in the 21st Century’s cyberworld; it is repeated behaviour that is intended to cause hurt and make the victim’s life a misery.

In many of our cases, it is one of the root causes of anxiety and disengagement from education among our learners.

SARAH’S* STORY

Sarah* one of our year 11 learners has endured years of severe bullying at several schools and a difficult home life – her parents have separated, her relationship with her parents is fractious and she now cares for her father. As a result she suffers from extreme anxiety and her self-esteem and confidence are very low.

However, since attending The Seeds of Change, and working with our coaches and horses on a one-to-one basis, she has started to develop coping strategies to deal with her anxieties which are starting to make her life easier, particularly in social or learning situations.

“I enjoy coming to The Seeds of Change because it’s fun and I have someone I can talk to and feel safe”, says Sarah.

*Name altered for anonymity

SARAH’S* STORY

She continues, “Working with the horses is fun because the work that we do with them helps me to understand it would be good for me to change how I approach things sometimes. This will help me develop friendships which is important to me because I’ve had a hard time at school in the past.”

Sarah is now able to attend small group sessions at another learning establishment to further her education which is a huge step forward for her.

Sarah adds, “Before, when I was anxious during my group sessions and I was asked a difficult or personal question I would have probably left and not gone back. Now I use the coping strategies that I have developed at The Seeds of Change, I stay calm and I reassure myself, and I manage to stay. It feels good knowing that I can do that”.

Sarah has noticed a big change at home as well: “Before I started at The Seeds of Change the relationship with my Mum wasn’t very good and it was hard to talk to her about things. It’s changed because I’m learning to communicate in a different way with her. If I change how I say things or when I say them it results in a different outcome. It’s calmer now and we can talk and have fun.”

Sarah is positive about her future and she is now contemplating a career in social work, where she can use her experiences to help others going through difficult times at home and school.
For more information about the work we do with sufferers of Anxiety, bullying and other related issues, please get in touch.

5 Giving Selective Mutism a voice

#selectivemutism #autism #anxiety

Selective Mutism is a condition which is becoming increasingly evident in our schools. According to National Health England's latest figures this condition affects more than 1 in 140 children and is closely linked to Autism, Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress.

If left undetected or untreated, the condition can result in more serious social anxiety, isolation and low self-esteem.
Early signs that may be displayed in school can include low levels of learner engagement or a reluctance to participle in class may would draw attention to them. Urinary infections can be as a result of not wanting to ask to go to the toilet and a reluctance to eat or drink anything during the which may lead to having to ask to leave the classroom.

Early diagnosis can increase the chances of improvement, but at The Seeds of Change many young people who have been diagnosed often are not referred to us until many other interventions have been tried and failed.

The approach that we use at The Seeds of Change offers the unique interaction with a horse, which not only creates a more relaxing and emotionally safe environment, but can also encourage a young person to use their voice when communicating with the horse in this less threatening environment.

EMILY’S* STORY

Emily was referred to us with a diagnosis of autism and selective mutism. She experiences high levels of anxiety in social situations and in relation to her learning. When Emily joined us, she was 12 years old and hadn’t spoken in a school environment since primary school. She gets particularly anxious if she feels pressured to do something such as give an answer, write something down, express an opinion or make a decision. At these times she ‘freezes’ and withdraws from all interaction.

As Emily loves horses and enjoys physical activities, she joined The Seeds of Change with the hope that a therapeutic, kinaesthetic approach would help her engage and build confidence with different people. At first, she was reluctant to make eye contact with her coach, but by the end of her first session was able to do so briefly. Emily seemed uncomfortable in our classroom and currently still declines any engagement with paper-based activities. But, once outside, she seemed more relaxed, showing an interest in the horses and listening attentively. Emily had a favourite horse that she’d ridden before, called Oreo, and by nodding her head, she chose to work with him.
 

*name changed for anonimity

EMILY’S STORY

Oreo is a young pony with quite a bit of ‘personality’. This suits Emily well, as she responds positively to humour and playfulness, which her coach builds into sessions. For example, one session involved brushing the horse’s forelock into different ‘hairstyles’ and doing a ‘photoshoot’ with him. Emily really enjoyed this, laughing and sustaining eye contact as well as nodding in response to suggestions for styling his hair. On other occasions her coach facilitates a quiet time and space for Emily to be close to Oreo while grooming or walking with him. And over time, Emily is beginning to express her affection for the horse, initiating contact through stroking or simple touch.

The most important element in Emily’s progress is the partnership growing between the learner, the coach and the horse. By focusing on the horses’ non-verbal interactions, her coach is able to highlight the positive communication skills shown by a selective mute learner. This places Emily in the role of a successful communicator, while at the same time removing the pressure to speak. As the horse responds to her communication, for example by walking by her side through a course of obstacles, Emily can practise the skills she finds challenging, such as making decisions, in a non-threatening environment.

The pressure-free nature of our work has allowed Emily to build a trusting relationship with her coach and Oreo, to the point where she will now take ‘risks’ to engage in activities. For example, she had a go at fastening the horse’s rug by herself, whereas previously she wouldn’t have touched it at all. After accomplishing something new she is encouraged to reflect on other situations where she may have felt unable to try a task and how it made her feel, and then she works with her coach to develop coping strategies that will help her successfully tackle these situations in the future. She seems to recognise her achievements, her confidence and engagement are gaining momentum. And just as every autistic learner is different, each of our sessions is different, tailored to Emily’s needs on the day, but built into an ongoing path of progress that we shape together; footprints and hoofprints marking every step of the way.

 
View Becca’s Story to find out more about how The Seeds of Change can help people affected by Selective Mutism.

6 Self-harming: finding an alternative release

#self-harm #stress #self-esteem

Fear, release, stress, release, anger, release, pain, release...
Just some of the reasons our young people have identified as being the trigger for their self-harm. In recent years we have seen an increase in young people self-harming: classically we think about cutting, injuring and scarring oneself, but self-harm can also take the form of trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) overdoses and engaging in high risk behaviours.

Through our equine facilitated learning approach we support young people to begin to identify the driving force behind their desire to self-harm and, through the formation of a supportive, trusting partnership with their horse, we can begin to explore healthier alternative coping strategies.

TOM’S* STORY

Tom was referred to The Seeds of Change having experienced several education placement breakdowns. His challenging behaviour and violent outbursts had led to him becoming isolated and falling behind. He quickly formed a close bond with one of The Seeds of Change horses, James, soon experiencing for himself the non-judgemental space that horses provide for us.

His coach, Charlie, stated: “Our sessions initially focussed on developing confidence and self-esteem, building effective communication skills and, crucially, understanding and correctly labelling the range of emotions that we feel.”

TOM’S* STORY

When we are able to accurately recognise and experience a range of emotions we become able to act upon them from a place of knowledge and calm; a place that allows us to consider our responses rather than diving in with a little thought about reaction. A reaction that often leads to difficult consequences. Charlie continued, “Through his work with James, Tom was able to observe the impact of his choices of behaviour on others and also began to link this back to the effect it had on himself.”

She added, “It was during this time that Tom disclosed to me his self-harming, cutting his arms, and on occasion his legs, in a desperate attempt to feel in control or to ‘punish himself’ when things had gone wrong.” Tom was worried that this disclosure would change the judgement of those around him, thinking him either weak or an attention seeker. “We were able to explore how self-harming had become a ‘habit’, a maladaptive coping strategy when faced with a difficult situation, thought or feeling”, said Charlie.

Working with James enabled Tom to begin to identify the triggers for his self-harm, the thoughts and feelings that accompanied these triggers and ultimately the behaviours that came about as a result. He learnt that horses, just like us, engage in ‘habits’ as a way of coping with challenging situations; these habits can be changed with gentle support and understanding and ultimately offering alternative ways of approaching the situation.

If you would like to find out more about our approach, please get in touch.

7 Understanding a world without sound

#deafness #communication #equality

Most of us take our hearing for granted and it is central to our health, well-being, communication, independence and quality of life. Over 11 million people in England, approximately one in six, are living with some form of hearing loss; 900,000 are severely or profoundly deaf. Around 4.4 million of people with hearing loss are working age, but unfortunately many of those wanting to work face barriers to entry and discrimination. 1 in 4 (25%) workers state there is no provision for deaf employees at their workplace and nearly half (47%) said that they did not receive support and guidance from their employer for issues related to being deaf.

As it is the second most common disability in the UK, action must be taken to ensure that employers are aware of the needs of deaf employees to ensure equality in the workplace. In fact, the Deaf community does not consider itself as having a disability at all, just part a linguistic community that adds another level of richness and diversity to our culture.

One of our Post-16 learners, Alex*, is profoundly deaf and is in his final term at The Seeds of Change. With support from his coach, Sam, he is exploring his next steps and the world of work – the opportunities, the frustrations and the obstacles. Read his experiences from his coach’s point of view – a huge, eye-opening learning curve for both coach and learner.

ALEX* & SAM'S STORY

It never fails to amaze me working in this job not how much I am able to teach the young person I am working with, but how much they are able to teach me. Alex is one of these young people and he has opened my vision to a whole community I was unaware of.
When I first started working with Alex I very soon became embarrassed by my inability to communicate with him – we worked via white board, lip-reading and rather a lot of misinterpretation. The worst part for me was that it wasn’t his inability to communicate, it was mine – the shoe was on the other foot! As our sessions progressed, Alex would teach me small bits of sign language that made our sessions easier.

As aforementioned, Alex is 17 and soon swapping The Seeds of Change for the world of work. As part of our work together I have been securing supported work experience for him. Alex is bright, well presented, punctual and has a good sense of humour; he is physically able and fit; he can communicate via sign language, lip-reading and verbal speech; his literacy and maths skills are good; he is willing and able to work. Yet, nearly every company that I approached felt unable to offer him a placement due to his deafness. Despite most organisations’ focus on ‘equality and diversity’, ‘health and safety’ prevailed.

I felt despondent and ignorant that I hadn’t realised the impact Alex’s deafness had on his life choices – which even now as I re-read that last sentence sounds ridiculous. Here was a 17 year old vibrant, able and willing young man struggling to find a place in the working world, being offered jobs that were well below his mental and physical capacity. Eventually, I decided to flip the issue on its head and try to find a role where Alex’s perceived ‘weakness’ could become his strength.

ALEX* & SAM'S STORY

Alex had confided in me that he enjoyed working with children. I contacted a school in Bedfordshire that had a hearing impaired unit – they were able to offer him a work placement. Teachers there practiced sign language and signed as part of their everyday learning. The school is mainstream with five pupils attending with hearing loss.

Working with Alex has opened a new level of awareness to me. For instance, when explaining the school’s fire safety procedure to him and then realising that he wouldn’t be able to hear the fire alarm, we spoke openly and freely about this and came to a solution with Alex who said, in this event it would be ok to touch his arm and signify the alarm. On another occasion, Alex arrived at work experience before me, but hadn’t gone into the building. When I asked him why, he signified towards the intercom and explained that he couldn’t communicate through this. I showed him that if you pressed the button and waited for the green light the receptionist could hear you. The following week I arrived and he had used the intercom to gain access to the building. Small adaptations to everyday occurrences we take for granted have enabled a more accessible working environment for him.

During his time at The Seeds of Change, Alex has matured an enormous amount, he has proven to himself and everyone around him that he can function and flourish in a hearing environment. The therapeutic work we have carried out was of great benefit to him and provided him with coping strategies around his frustrations and mechanisms to support his future more effectively.

It has been a humbling experience working with Alex, the way he conducts himself and the confidence he has to take on new experiences and challenges. His humour puts me at ease and makes me feel comfortable in asking him questions that I may otherwise feel nervous to ask for fear of offending him.

Spending time with Alex has made us all more appreciative of how it must be to be deaf. Watching his independence grow in new situations and to utilise the strategies he has gained with us has been amazing. Watching his journey has confirmed to me how versatile and bespoke our programmes are and it has truly been a pleasure to be a part of his journey.

If you would like to find out more about our approach, please get in touch.

8 A caring refuge from violence

#DomesticViolence #InCare #MentalHealth

16 year old Sammy has been in an all-boys care home for five months. Before this he was in a medium secure psychiatric unit following his involvement in a violent incident.

Since attending The Seeds of Change Sammy has developed a positive working relationship with his coach, Charlie, and the horses at the centre.

SAMMY'S STORY

Since coming to The Seeds of Change my confidence has improved and I have learnt a lot of new things, how to talk about things and how I feel. I feel welcome at The Seeds of Change and not judged for what’s happened in the past.

I’ve been working on understanding healthy and unhealthy relationships and I found out I know quite a lot.

At a young age I witnessed a lot of violence and an unhealthy relationship between my mum and stepdad. Seeing unhealthy relationships and violence was like watching the titanic when it hit the iceberg.

"Seeing unhealthy relationships and violence was like watching the Titanic when it hit the iceberg"

SAMMY'S STORY

Working with Charlie and the horses I’ve learnt a lot about what is needed in a healthy relationship such as trust, loyalty, listening, giggles!, respect, talking, accepting others for who they are and kindness and space. We’ve talked about arguing healthily and how, if you can get through that with respect and talking about it, you will understand each other better.
For me, being in care has changed me for the better. It’s opened more paths and directions for me to think about for my future and for my life in general. It has helped me to make good decisions and it’s good to know I have people who will be there to listen and help and understand how I’m feeling and encourage me to talk about things if I need to.

If you would like to find out more about our approach, please get in touch.