Why was Change of Scene created?
As is often the case with charities set up by individuals, the idea was born out of something horrid that happened in the founder’s life.  Something happened in Sue Weaver’s life of which she could make no sense.  She had bought an idyllic small-holding in partnership with a far from ideal partner. Why had it happened?  How could the negative be turned to a positive? Then, after a long time searching, she realised that if she could secure ownership of the whole of the property & land, she could make it available to children who may be experiencing a tough time. Her philosophy became that life gives you what you need, not what you want or deserve, but that out of something bad something good can happen!

How did it start and how was the “client” group chosen?
26 local schools were invited to visit to assess the facilities and to suggest activities.  Just one accepted.  William Cobbett, brought along ten children from their special educational needs class.  It was realised very quickly that the terrain of the small-holding was far from ideal for children with physical difficulties and so, although the William Cobbett class returned many times, the main focus turned to children and young people who were displaying social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. The cause of their difficulties has often been caused by something that has gone wrong in their early years and of which they can make no sense.  With Sue Weaver knowing what it was like to not be able to make sense of what had happened in her life (and she was in her 50s) she could empathise with the children’s frustration. Many of the youngsters who now attend have been excluded or expelled from school.  This is not because they are “bad” but because they just can’t cope.  Their unacceptable behaviour most frequently emanates from frustration because they are not old enough or have not been given the chance to develop the skills to understand or come to terms with with such situations.

How did it grow?
We started slowly with the initial school visit in 2007; became a registered charity in summer 2008; then have built up gradually by word of mouth amongst schools, Home School Link Workers (HSLW), Senco staff, social workers and teachers until in 2011 we reached full complement of 14 youngsters attending each week.

Why do you have so few children?
We are aware that to be effective we need to retain an air of exclusivity, so the youngsters feel they are an intrinsic cog in the wheel, not just one of many and so we developed our strap line – “we seek to make a life changing difference for a few rather than a marginal difference for many” …, as Mother Theresa said “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you,”  although as the years pass, the few are becoming many and indeed by 2013 60 different children had come to work with us excluding circa 15 work experience and DoE placements, which we also facilitate.  We measure attendance in “kid days”.  A kid day = 7 hrs.  We currently run approx 420 “kid days” a year.

How do you work with the children?
We realised very early on that what most of the children needed was attention, individual 1:1 attention and to so be given a sense of importance. Therefore, those who come are told that they are coming in order to help run the small-holding; look after the wide range of animals and tend to land, its fences, trees, garden, veg patch etc. Instantly they know their purpose and everything they do creates a sense of achievement.

What do the children do and what do they learn?
It is definitely not a “fun day out at the farm”; they work really hard and learn from hands-on experiences.  Those working with the youngsters are constantly explaining everything that relates to their tasks and to the environment.  In this way they absorb knowledge without realising they are being taught and this is not only in relation to the practical activities but the life skills of coping with crises, death, failure – for instance, the fox that managed to scale an electric fence & break into the duck house, killing all bar one of our 10 ducks; or the disappointment of raising seedlings, pricking out, potting on, planting out, weeding, fertilising, watering, providing support to growing plants over months, only to have the crop fail….of course balanced against the negatives the absolute joy of the positives – collecting eggs, harvesting  runner beans, tomatoes; eating raspberries & strawberries as they are picked; seeing the joy of our dog as they teach her new tricks, etc!

They care for a wide variety of animals: alpacas, ponies, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, snake, gecko, cockatoo and learn about bees & their hives.  They learn to become observant of body-language and how this will vary from one species to another; recognising fear, apprehension, bullying, aggression, affection,  protection, etc.  All confidence building experiences demonstrating how to assess situations, how to get the balance right between overcoming fears, appropriate confidence yet avoidance of taking unacceptable risks.

During refreshment breaks, they play games such as quoits, roll-a-ball or bagatelle so inadvertently improving their numeracy skills; assemble wooden puzzles, play tumble tower, so improving dexterity, patience & problem solving; 3D noughts & crosses; dominos; draughts; chess, etc or they can burn off surplus energy on the trampoline or with the punch bag.

How are referrals made and what are the contractual arrangements?
School teachers, college tutors, social workers, Home School Link Workers, Access to Education, Special Educational Needs Coordinators, parents/guardians/carers contact us either by phone or e-mail in order to explain the situation of the youngster they think would benefit from attendance at Change of Scene.  We  advise on the current availability.  We generally have a waiting list but this can be quite fluid as children’s needs are met/they move to different schools/out of area, etc.  The referral agent is asked to complete a referral form, which we e-mail to them. Upon receipt of the completed form and a place being available a date for a referral meeting is agreed.

The usual format of the referral meeting is that the young person visits the “Farm”, accompanied by a representative of the referrer (school or Social Services, etc) together with a member of his/her family – main carer if possible.

  • Advanced  completion of the referral form precludes the need to go through the basic information at the meeting.  However,  once  the initial introductions are complete, the referrer and carer/parent stay with the senior CoS officer  to talk openly in greater detail than the form permits while the young person goes off around the grounds with our Child Care Support Worker for about 15 – 20 minutes.  This enables the young person’s history, their needs and what outcomes it is hoped attendance at CoS will achieve, to be fully explored without the young person becoming bored or embarrassed.
  • On returning from the tour the young person is asked whether Change of Scene is a place they wish to attend.   If, they feel it’s not something they’d like to do,  we respect that decision because they’d be unlikely to engage in the predominantly  outdoor activities and so the desired outcomes would not be achieved; i.e. there is no point in setting up a vulnerable youngster for another fall.
  • In addition we make a check that nothing  happened during the tour that would give CoS staff any cause for concern.
  • Assuming everyone is happy to proceed, we decide the relevant attendance, which  day(s), the duration of referral, transport arrangements, etc and  the referrer, being the person authorised to commit to the arrangement and funding, signs the referral form.  Once the placement has been agreed, we require one month’s written notice of termination and fees are payable until the expiry of that notice period.  Unless otherwise agreed, attendance is during term time only.  Attendance at CoS is expected on inset days. If any other arrangements clash with CoS scheduled sessions be it school trips, ill-health , failure of transport arrangements, etc except when instigated by CoS, all term time sessions are payable in full. Holiday sessions can be provided if required.  Fees are invoiced monthly in arrears and are payable within 28 days of the date of issue. We are not VAT registered.

Where is the project located and why is the address not on the web site? 
It’s located in a quiet South Farnham valley between Wrecclesham and Rowledge.

The address is not published because the children are considered vulnerable. We therefore seek to minimise the presence of strangers and casual callers so effecting protection, maintaining privacy and avoiding interruption to the undivided attention we promise to give them.  Anyone who has official business will have made an appointment and will have been given the address & directions.  In most instances, visitors are confined to Wednesdays or Sundays when no children are present.  There is no sign saying “Change of Scene” on our premises because we neither believe in labelling the children nor of drawing attention to our presence.

What do you have there?
A16 acre small-holding that the children like to refer to as the “Farm” on which we have circa 40 animals:

  • 2 ponies
  • 2 pigs
  • 6 alpacas
  • 2 goats
  • 1 dog
  • 3 cats
  • 1 cockatoo
  • 1 ferret
  • 1 rabbit
  • 1 guinea pig
  • 1 corn snake
  • 1 leopard gecko
  • 2 bee hives
  • 6 ducks
  • 9 chickens
  • 2 giant tortoises
  • varying numbers of doves