As the ongoing effects of the coronavirus lockdown continue to be felt in every classroom and for every pupil across the country, educational charity the Country Trust is doing its bit to aid the healing process.

The Country Trust team would usually have been busy during the autumn taking children to visit real working farms, running in-school cooking and growing sessions and countryside residential visits.

Whilst a few schools are getting their children out to experience the joy and wonder of the working countryside, most are not yet able to and this has compelled the charity and the farmers who support them to think of a new way they can help.

“As most children can’t come to farms, we have started bringing the farm to them through our brand new programme, Farm in a Box,” explained Jill Attenborough, the trust's CEO. “Each Farm in a Box is linked to a real working farm and is designed to be delivered at school by teaching staff, with a personalised film from the farmer.”

Children from GUST School, in Ashington, just north of Newcastle, were the first to experience a 'Farm in a Box' in the North-east before Christmas. Primary teacher, Abby Steele, wanted to focus on wellbeing and communication skills, and judging by the reaction from her pupils, the project did all that and more.

She said: “By the time children are referred to us, they have usually faced significant barriers to learning, often resulting in them becoming disengaged with education and suffering with poor self-image.

"Opportunities like this are incredibly valuable in harnessing children’s curiosity and re-engaging them in learning about the world around us. Farm in a Box enabled all of our pupils to feel successful in their learning and helped to foster a positive and resilient attitude towards challenge.”

Local Country Trust co-ordinator, Sue Thompson, paired the primary school with farmer and current High Sheriff of Northumberland, Tom Fairfax, from Mindrum, near Berwick. Working together, they created a box filled with interesting resources, such as farm produce to taste, seeds to touch and plant, and experiments to try.

Sue explained: “Having researched teachers’ priorities to help shape the new programme, the Country Trust linked every activity to the curriculum, with language, communication and well-being woven through every Farm in a Box day.

"The hands-on investigations, exploration and discovery make learning exciting; the children’s understanding of food and farming increase; and their confidence, self-esteem and social interactions are bolstered.”

As a special treat, farmer Tom Fairfax also sent them some ‘class pets’ – earthworms and cockroaches, plus all the materials and containers to create their perfect habitats.

Teacher, Abby, extended the fun throughout the following week with pizza making, using ingredients provided in the box and a trip to nearby woods to find more mini-beasts.

The children were also delighted to receive a special award from the High Sheriff, for being very special and were pictured proudly holding their certificate.

Abby concluded: “We really enjoyed the day and the children have left buzzing with excitement. The award and gifts were such a special touch and they left feeling really proud and inspired.”

Tom Fairfax explained: “I am committed to helping young people experience the working countryside and to understand the part they play in the wider farming ecosystem. When we understand and respect the farmed environment, we can all play a positive part in ensuring a sustainable and productive future for everyone.

"Whilst this engagement is one of the core themes of my year as High Sheriff, it is also a fundamental part of farming life as it is a foundation of the future. The enabling work of the Country Trust helps forge links between children and the industry that will feed them for life. My hope is that some of these links might develop into something greater – when that happens, anything is possible!”

Covid-19 update:

Following the sudden closure of schools to most pupils, the Country Trust has rapidly adapted its hands-on resources package, Farm in a Box, to provide an fully online version that can be used by teachers for both keyworkers' and vulnerable children still in school, simultaneously with children learning at home.

This 'Virtual Farm in a Box' includes a video of Country Trust host farmers showing their land, crops, livestock and natural habitats, and explaining daily lives and work routines while they too are locked down.

The film is supplemented by four sets of activities linking children to the working countryside, that can be done at home or school. The themes range from looking for signs of life in your playground, local park or garden; listening to birdsong and comparing it to the sounds on the farms; and connecting crops to food with a 'kitchen cupboard scavenger hunt'.

There are lots of lesson options including recipes, quizzes and crafts, that appeal to all ages and abilities. "The team have done an amazing job to produce this high quality package in less than seven days that can be used by so many children in diverse circumstances.

"This reflects their wide ranging expertise in agriculture and education, combined with the generosity of the Country Trust's host farmers," explained Sue.

Virtual Farm in a Box, by the Country Trust, will be rolled out later this week and several schools have already requested it to integrate it in their remote teaching curriculum

* If you are a farmer and would be interested in working with the Country Trust to create a Farm in a Box, or a teacher who thinks their pupils could benefit from a Farm in a Box day, visit