From feeding chickens to mucking out the pony, students in Cornwall in need of some extra support now have a way to learn new skills outside of the classroom.

Behind it is a teacher of ten years, whose childhood was filled with nature. Kate Biddick is now transferring those skills into sessions helping students gain physical and emotional benefits by spending time on her smallholding near Wendron.

When she first started her business, Rustikated, Kate imagined it being used by schools for everything from helping children who needed their confidence building to perhaps even rewarding students who had done well.

However, she said what it seems to have evolved into so far is schools selecting students with complex needs who could benefit from out-of-the-classroom learning – although she remains open to any use.

South West Farmer: Kate Biddick holding rooster Fluer with pony Caddie in the backgroundKate Biddick holding rooster Fluer with pony Caddie in the background (Image: Newsquest)

She runs school sessions for up to six students on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays term time, while Wednesdays are set aside for home learning groups under the heading ‘Head Outdoors Groups’ (HOGs).

The days run from 9.30am to 2.30pm, and the first session includes an induction in the barn where students are each given their own bag containing gloves, plastic safety goggles and secateurs.

The morning consists of the students carrying out their tasks in small groups, from mucking out and feeding the pony Caddie to cleaning out the cage and giving breakfast to guinea pigs Sausage and Mash.

South West Farmer: Kate shows off one of guinea pigsKate shows off one of guinea pigs (Image: Newsquest)

It’s then on to cleaning out the chicken house and checking for eggs, before taking the dogs on a walk to feed the sheep in the field down the lane.

Kate usually finds that the students are ready for an early lunch after this – and often it is at this point that some of the quieter students really start to open up and chat with each other.

The afternoons are less structured, with students choosing whether they wish to work with the willow plantation, maintain the ponds or simply spend some quiet time on one of the benches, learning about nature and how to whittle – always accompanied by spaniel Fern and Labrador Tara.

South West Farmer: Feeding the sheepFeeding the sheep (Image: Newsquest)

Having launched in January, Kate said the first set of sessions – which run for half a term at a time – have proved very successful, with one school seeing so much change in students, that they booked some of them to return to see how much more progress could be made, while adding new students to join them.

Kate said: “When they first come the students are often very shy and quiet, then you almost see the layers come off.

South West Farmer: Labrador Tara showing off one of the pondsLabrador Tara showing off one of the ponds (Image: Newsquest)

“The animals are their responsibly, and the learning that happens there is that, no matter how anxious we’re feeling inside, or what’s going on at home or in school, we have a responsibility to the animals and it can be an opportunity to move away from those other issues for a little while.

“Sometimes they come and they’ve had a difficult week. Perhaps some are struggling with their behaviour. But their loyalty to the animals helps them step up to the mark and they all do.”

South West Farmer: Spaniel Fern is a firm favouriteSpaniel Fern is a firm favourite (Image: Newsquest)

She said that over the course of the sessions she can see barriers coming down and new relationships forming.

The six-week package for schools includes feedback to school staff at the end, where Kate can often share insights with teachers to help the students going forwards back at school.

“The luxury and privilege of six full days with them is you get to know who they really are as a person,” Kate said, adding that she has purposely capped the groups at six per session, in order to be able to have a meaningful interaction with each student.

South West Farmer: Students feed the sheep during each sessionStudents feed the sheep during each session (Image: Newsquest)

She has kept Wednesdays free for youngsters who are home or flexi-schooled. Parents can drop their children off for the day, to give time to perhaps go to the office for one day a week, or catch up with housework.

The Wednesday HOGs sessions are for children aged from 12 to 18, while school sessions are from age eight upwards, with a maximum of six students on any one day. Schools are able to use various sources of existing funding to help toward the costs, for example Pupil Premium and for primaries, the PE and Sport Premium funding.

Kate is Cornish born, with a coast and countryside-based childhood near Truro. Her parents were passionate about nature and the environment, with her dad passing on his knowledge to Kate and her brother. Kate went on to study countryside management as a degree and her brother David has designed the Rustikated logo in support of her venture.

South West Farmer: Kate holds Fluer the rooster who likes to pretend to be a parrotKate holds Fluer the rooster who likes to pretend to be a parrot (Image: Newsquest)

After a few jobs linked to her degree she married and bought a small smallholding with her husband near Stithians, before they then moved their family and the animals to a new smallholding in Wendron.

They have three children, with their middle child having complex learning difficulties, Kate retrained as a teacher in order to look after him during the holidays.

She taught for ten years, most recently at Wendron School, but last year felt the time was right to launch Rustikated, the dream she’s had for a while.

“I don’t mind who comes, but it’s turning into a really special place for children with additional complexities, who often find a full school-week too overwhelming.”

“It just seems to be this space, and the animals, and the freedom to explore, is so helpful,” she said.

More details about Rustikated can be found on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages with the QR code below taking you on a tour of the site, allowing you to ‘meet’ Kate and the animals.

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