The Forgotten Countryside is not a meme created by those who inhabit Britain’s countryside to hit the Government and other politicians with. It is a genuine complaint.
Far too often over the years we have been saddled with bureaucrats who rarely set foot in the countryside, city-dwelling journalists who cast aspersions on countryside dwellers, effortlessly calling them yokels, bumpkins and grockles, and a BBC which frankly doesn’t seem to care one jot about the Great British Countryside; dumping faux countryside on us with Countryfile and Countryside 999.
So, when a charity goes out of its way to bring the young from inner cities out of the city and into the fields and farms, it should sincerely be applauded. For some of these kids – inner city kids who will be our bureaucrats, journalists and television producers one day – a trip to the countryside is the first time in their lives they have left behind the concrete jungle.
The Country Trust based in Chelmsford, Essex, is one charity amongst others providing this service. The Trust describes itself as “a small, dynamic national education charity dedicated to bringing alive the working countryside for children least able to access it.”
Since 1978 The Country Trust has been making it possible for hundreds of volunteer farmers and landowners to welcome thousands of disadvantaged young children from all backgrounds and faiths onto their farms to share their passion for food, farming and the countryside.
Take the example of last month when a group of 23 children, all aged 10 and 11, travelled from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for a residential visit organised by The Country Trust.
At the time the Eastern Daily Express reported that the kids, “on their way into Norfolk they stopped at Snetterton to groom ponies at the World Horse Welfare centre, before making their home for the week at Hautbois Activity Centre near Coltishall, where they enjoyed activities such as kayaking, abseiling and vegetable gardening. During their trip, they also visited Thetford Forest, Sea Palling beach, and they were given a taste of the Broads at the Barton Turf Adventure Centre, near Stalham. There, the youngsters used GPS devices to find geocaches, took a boat trip to go wildlife spotting, and learned how to light a fire – all under the tuition of Broads Authority officers.”
Phil Hesmondhalgh, the trust’s head of communications remarked: “There is the educational element as well. A lot of what they do will tie into the curriculum and then there’s also the well-being aspect in coming out into the countryside. If you are living in a flat in the middle of a large city, this is very different to what you would expect. But coming out to somewhere like Hautbois or Barton Turf and having the opportunity to do some of the things that people living in Norfolk might take for granted, like being in fields and going on boat trips or having a walk along the beach – we know there is enough evidence to suggest those simple pleasures can lift your well-being and tackle things like depression. It is about understanding what the countryside is like. Some of what The Country Trust does is visits to working farms and you would be surprised how many children turn up in flip-flops when they get off the coach and are surprised when they are confronted by mud and cows’ muck. It is a real revelation to see potatoes being grown in the ground, and to find out they don’t come in plastic bags in Asda or Sainsbury’s.”
Only by getting townies (as we rudely call them) to appreciate the countryside and have positive experience in the countryside can we bumpkins (as they rudely call us) get what we need from Westminster and other UK stakeholders whose power is so concentrated in towns and cities.
The fact that these kids can enjoy a day out in the countryside for free when otherwise their parents could not afford it is a huge bonus. Getting these kids to see our farms, beaches, fields and valleys is a human right fulfilled. The fact that money should prevent them from travelling into the countryside is a terrible reflection of priorities; yet another example of town/city-driven Government once again failing to recognise the huge resource sitting on its doorstep.
The Country Trust and others like you – we salute you.