As I am met by Anyès Reading at Elmscroft in West Farleigh, home to the charity ’Dandelion Time’ I am struck by the friendly, homely atmosphere of the farmhouse this charity calls home. Care, consideration and commitment seem to ooze from every part of this farmhouse and you can tell that this is a special place. The smell of cooking wafts temptingly through the air and the line of wellington boots at the back door suggest outdoor living is a huge part of everyday life here.
I am here to find out about this home grown charity. Right on Maidstone’s doorstep, Dandelion Time should be celebrated as one of Maidstone’s best success stories but in truth I had never heard of them before researching our local charities. Graham Carpenter, CEO of Dandelion Time, pointed out that like many small charities they are under the radar.
Dandelion Time was launched by Dr. Caroline Jessel. Working with children and young people who have been subject to abuse, neglect or early life attachment issues, Dandelion Time provides a focus in their lives which is positive and strives to reconnect them with themselves and their families.
Working as a G.P in Sutton Valence, time and time again Caroline saw the need for such a service and there was no one to refer her patients to for help, so Caroline set up the charity working from her kitchen at home and using a small farm in Coxheath. That was over 10 years ago.
There is a reason the charity is based in the countryside, most of their therapeutic work is done through practical farm based development activities. Dandelion Time gives young people and their families a new take on life and the opportunity to try different skills that they would never have thought of doing before.
Anyès showed me around. Based on a plot of 11 acres Dandelion Time uses every inch to best effect, from housing chickens, sheep, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and fruit trees, through to a polytunnel full of vegetables. Last year the charity was chosen as one of the sites dedicated to planting trees as part of an NHS incentive to plant one tree for every NHS employee. The next round of tree planting at Elmscroft takes place at the end of March. This ties in with the work Dandelion Time do and of course the project benefits those in need of their help.
We came to the green woodwork area – a straw baled structure built on the project where everything you need to work with green wood is kept. People can take a branch from a tree and create something beautiful here and no one ever tells them what to make or gives them a time limit. Anyès shows me how the wooden hand machines work and the stages of the wood work process: “…first chop the wood then strip the bark” Anyès shows me a rounded piece of wood which has undergone that very treatment, “…put the wood on a lathe and turn the wood, chisel and work the wood. They can make anything here – rolling pins, spindles and candle sticks for example and the joy of working with wood is therapeutic” There are a lot of works in process scattered around and it is evident that this is a busy place.
Elmscroft could be viewed as an oasis; a bubble where families can go to be taken out of their everyday routines and learn about themselves afresh and reconnect with each other. This sounds all very light hearted but the problems faced by those attending Dandelion Time are serious. The charity helps children and their families come to terms with their past and the troubles of everyday life are faced.
Graham explains the way Dandelion Time helps the children who are referred to them: “Dandelion Time works because it is involved with the important people in children’s lives. For children who come here who have been exposed to violence, emotional abuse or neglect we believe the families have seeds for their own healing. That is a key thing. We work with the effects of trauma by supporting the support networks around children.”
Graham is passionate about the work they do: “Working with families is important for working with children to really get to their needs. It’s quite likely the family might bring in distress they have lived through in their own lives. For example, a mum in a violent relationship may have experienced violence in her life as a child so they bring something of their own pain with them and we can help them see this in a different light to try and stop the cycle of abuse across generations. We try to throw that perpetual cycle off track and give a new possibility for families to construct loving, appropriate relationships protecting their own child.”
The way Dandelion Time rebuilds families is through immersing them in activities revolving around the natural world, the environment and crafts. They encourage children and their families to take part in bread making, planting, animal welfare and woodwork workshops providing families with a context to rework their relationship in a completely unusual way.
These activities also give children the opportunities to build their sense perceptions and self-esteem. Graham tells me: “Very often children have been failed by the schools – excluded – and exclusion from school means that child thinks they will fail.” The charity aim to help that child return to school as a better pupil, after all as Graham put it “If a child is disruptive at school it affects 30 other children in their class.”
The activities also have a time element as they cannot be rushed – this helps people to appreciate the reality of seeing a process through to the end. The bread oven, for example, needs to be lit two and a half hours before it is ready to bake, the wheat grain needs to be milled, the dough kneaded and after the bread is baked families are encouraged to share it. Commitment and dedication are key skills that are developed as well as simply taking time out of what could be a hectic lifestyle.
The concept of Dandelion Time revolves around the old fashioned values of good communication, co-operation and patience “to get a father and son working a two man saw is a treat!” Graham enthuses, “…because if they don’t make a bond, the wood won’t let them cut it in half!” This is a great metaphor for the work done at Dandelion Time.
The proof of the good work carried out at Dandelion Time is in their success stories, such as Karl’s. Karl, aged 8, came to Dandelion Time as a very traumatised boy with worrying behaviour, unable to be calm or to concentrate. He was constantly running, moving and using fantasised violent play which involved acting out a variety of characters. Often he would not answer to his own name, but only to that of the character he had become. He found sharing meals around a big family group table very difficult as he felt threatened by being with more than one or two people.
Dandelion therapeutic staff were gradually able to help Karl to take part in calm creative activities. Woodwork, felt-work and cooking allowed Karl to become immersed in enjoyable projects which required a need for slow and careful work, and gradually he became able to concentrate and feel less anxious, for increasing periods of time.
He gradually responded to the help he was given and began to feel safe enough to relax and calm down, enjoying time with his Mum and beginning to interact with staff. The change has been noticeable to his Mum and school; he now uses pretend play without resorting to violence, and doesn’t constantly run so much. He is less anxious and is now able to sometimes be still, listening to conversation or joining in.
Attending Dandelion helped Karl to grow his social skills, developing and demonstrating a sense of humour, enjoying play of different types, and interacting well with other children, and even a few adults. He began to make friendships with other children, and his school have told Dandelion that there has been a noticeable and positive difference in his behaviour and he has been calmer. After receiving support from Dandelion, he was able to overcome some of his emotional difficulties which enabled him to stay at school for lunch (for the first time), and start to follow an increased timetable of full instead of half days.
Dandelion Time is a small charity which is non-residential and the project runs from Monday to Friday and occasionally at weekends during school terms, helping three to four children and their families at any one time. The charity also holds events to fundraise and have the aim to open another unit like Dandelion Time in the future but council cut backs means fundraising is now more important than ever.
Without Dandelion Time the children they have helped would still be suffering and many families would still be struggling through life without creating family bonds. If you would like to support Dandelion Time you could attend any of their events – they are running a quiz on 7th March, Clowning Around (discover your inner clown!) on 3rd May, their May Celebration to showcase their work is on 10th May and Shakespeare on the lawn from the Changeling Theatre Company on 13th July. Alternatively donate through their website at www.dandeliontime.org.uk
Dandelion Time is very grateful to the financial support it receives from so many small organisations and individuals in and around Maidstone. If you or your local group would like to ‘Do it for Dandelion’ organise a fundraising event on our behalf we would delighted. Contact Anyès on 01622 814 0017 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 01622 814001.
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