‘Simon Balle All-through School is an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ academy for primary and secondary pupils, including sixth form. We also have a nursery run by Busy Lizzies at the school.
The idea of a mini farm was hatched last year as a way of extending our outdoor provision. We wanted to promote nature, and support our pupils (particularly the younger children, those who may be disadvantaged in any way and children with SEND) both during and following the pandemic.
Looking after small animals is a great learning experience – and we felt that having this opportunity would bring our values of responsibility, compassion, patience and kindness to life. Outdoor learning is an integral part of our Early Years curriculum; we already have a pupil garden with a vegetable allotment, and the children enjoy regular welly walks through local wildlife habitats.
Our plan was to site the farm on an underused area of grass outside our Larch Centre (our primary school building) as an extension of our outdoor classroom activities in primary science and learning for life. We also wanted to increase cohesion across the school community by having a group of Year 9 volunteers leading the farm work.
With our core budget already stretched, however, we couldn’t justify the outlay on what might be seen as non-essential provision. Instead, we decided to see how much we could raise through a crowdfunding appeal.
We knew we needed a safe fenced area (and one that would be fox-proof, which added to the expense!), with double gates and enclosures. We also allowed for some areas starting off empty so that the farm could expand, or we could use them to welcome visiting animals.
Other essential items were then costed, including hutches and homes, food and bedding, vaccinations, storage and accessories (such as gloves and brooms). Most of our small animals were promised as donations, for instance one of our parents breeds guinea pigs, and a staff member provided our hens.
We set our crowdfunding target at £4,500 and launched our campaign last autumn on DonateMySchool (now InvestMyCommunity). We’d used this platform before as a school and found it very straightforward and easy. We didn’t feel it was the right time to be asking parents for lots of money, but we did think the children needed something to look forward to, so we simply highlighted that if every child in the Larch Centre gave £10 we would quickly hit the total.
The platform worked really well for us. It was great to be able to read all the lovely comments people made as they donated, about what their children were looking forward to. We publicised our page through the school newsletter, internal emails and the school’s social media and it was very easy for people to give simply by clicking on the link.
We were delighted to reach our fundraising goal in a matter of weeks, raising £3,765 plus £892 in Gift Aid. This was mainly through lots of people across our community donating small amounts.
Busy Lizzies also made a significant contribution (for which we were very grateful) because the nursery children are already contributing actively to the farm and our partnership is so important to us. We had a further large donation from one grandparent. We then added additional amounts from various other budgets, such as pupil premium, to cover the total costs of establishing the farm.
The community and parents were keen to support us in other ways too. One parent made all of our farm signs and another linked us to Pets at Home, which offered us a small discount on supplies. We were lucky enough to launch the farm with two rabbits, four guinea pigs, three tortoises and seven hens!
The Simon Balle Farm opened with an official launch party on the first day of our summer term. It was a fantastic occasion, with staff and children from both the Larch Centre and Busy Lizzies coming together (outside) for the first time in a year. We were joined by the Year 9 farm leaders, two governors and our headteacher Alison Saunders, who cut the opening ribbon and made a speech. We even had the school big band playing, which added more excitement to the day.
The children are really enjoying their new farm and it’s been a great addition to the school. Science and understanding nature have taken on a different dimension and the idea of “stewardship” is being taught and modelled. We’ll be asking for family support with rotas for looking after the animals at weekends and during holidays – and it looks like we’ll have many willing volunteers.’
Rachel Kirk, vice-principal, Simon Balle All-through School, Hertford (1,489 pupils)