Meet the Yorkshire woman who has gone from deputy head teacher to running Goxhill Meadows glamping site and supporting children with their mental health

Jayne Haigh left her role in teaching to launch a glamping site with animals during the pandemic. Now she supports young people with mental health and wellbeing. Laura Reid reports.

It was a bold move by her own admission, leaving behind a stable and well-paid position in teaching to launch a glamping site during the grips of the global pandemic.

But from her “little bit of paradise” in rural East Yorkshire, Jayne Haigh has achieved her biggest dream - combining her love of animals and the outdoors to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing.

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“Right at the beginning, I recorded a video of what my hopes and dreams were,” Jayne recalls.

Jayne Haigh of Goxhill Meadows.Jayne Haigh of Goxhill Meadows.
Jayne Haigh of Goxhill Meadows.

“I’ve got this little clip of me standing with my horse and a goat in my hand and saying my goal - I work with families and support children with their mental health and wellbeing. It’s really daft and the goat is misbehaving in my arms. But that was just as I opened the glamping site and it’s just unbelievable that it’s what I now do.”

In July 2020, Jayne walked away from two decades working in primary education. Four years ago, she and her family relocated from Hornsea to a seven-acre smallholding on the outskirts of the seaside town.

Conscious of the many outdoor pursuits that she, husband Paul Duckworth and three children Tom, 25, Charlie, 23 and Rosie, 15 had been privileged enough to experience, her thoughts turned to how they could open up the land to others.

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The first thing she decided to do was to allocate a field to create a glamping site, which now consists of three eco-friendly pods.

Jayne Haigh with alpacas at the site.Jayne Haigh with alpacas at the site.
Jayne Haigh with alpacas at the site.

“The driving force for me was wanting to create somewhere that families could get to that was out in the open and experience nature and being around animals,” Jayne explains. “I wanted kids to have the experiences that my children have been lucky enough to get.”

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Goxhill Meadows opened its doors to campers in August 2020, two months after the end of the first Covid-19 lockdown. It had been in the pipeline before the pandemic took hold and Jayne was spurred on by local interest in her ponies in Spring 2020.

“There were lots of people out walking when restrictions allowed and we have a footpath running through our land,” she says.

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“The miniature shetlands were out in the adjoining woodland where they conservation grazing, clearing down stuff for us. People started diverting the path to walk and see and stroke the Goxhill ponies. It grew from there.”

Grown it has. Jayne has acquired more animals at the smallholding, which is now home to pygmy goats, Hebridean sheep, chickens, alpacas and two friendly dogs, as well as horses and shetland ponies.

“When we opened the glamping site, I never really planned on using the animals to make people feel better, “ she says. “What really pleased me was I got so much pleasure out of showing people around our little bit of paradise”

The pods were soon fully booked for the season and visitors would often ask if they could spend time with the animals, feeding and grooming them. Jayne began to offer a programme of animal experiences that people could add on to their stays.

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Word quickly spread and she began to explore the opportunity for the site to offer respite stays for families. She also looked at how it could be used as a nurturing environment, making the most of the well-documented restorative impact that both animals and the outdoors can have on wellbeing.

Jayne started working with a number off schools to support small groups of vulnerable children and young people. During the turbulence of the pandemic, the site provided an outdoor safe space for them to de-stress and keep learning - and that work continues still now.

Jayne says the site has also been commissioned by the NHS and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council to provide animal-assisted learning and therapeutic activities to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and also to those with mental health problems. In addition, it now offers respite stays to families whose children are in crisis.

Launching and building Goxhill Meadows in the Covid-19 climate has been a labour of love but one that fits seamlessly with a woman whose most memorable experiences have been in the outdoors, amongst nature and animals.

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After studying a business degree at university, Jayne joined the RAF, attracted by the challenges of the military, its training exercises and being outdoors.

She says she found her niche when she joined the RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue Service, where she met Paul and took part in adventure training and expeditions in the UK and abroad.

Jayne moved on to work for a charity in Liverpool, supporting vulnerable youths through outdoors personal development schemes, before taking up a position running the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for youngsters in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales.

When Paul, who remained with the RAF, was then posted to Cowden bombing range in East Yorkshire, she retrained as a primary school teacher.

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Paul was deployed to both the Falklands and Iraq when the children were young. “Often he was missing for months at a time in very dodgy, dangerous situations,” Jayne says. “My going outdoors has always been a massive stress relief and a way of coping. It’s part of who I am.”

Jayne spent 20 years in primary education, originally teaching and later as a deputy head. She says she has always been interested in supporting children’s mental health and offering a range of enrichment activities and experiences. Jayne left the profession with stress-related ill health and with her vision for Goxhill Meadows firmly on her mind.

“The challenge always was moving out of a very stable, very well paid career and taking a leap,” she says. “That was massive. But the best thing to do. Then things opened up and shut down again. We had a very uncertain future, it was very risky.”

Jayne, originally from Wakefield, is pretty much a one-woman band, with her family chipping in to offer support. She stresses she’s not a therapist but believes in the therapeutic nature of working with animals in the outdoors.

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“I feel absolutely honoured to work with children who get so much benefit out of coming,” she says. “We support the children and young people but also the families that come with them because it’s not easy having a child with SEND or social and emotional health needs.

“We do take quite a lot of children who are in alternative provision because they can’t cope with mainstream education and it’s just really rewarding to see we can make a difference. That’s what drives me.”

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she adds, welling up with emotion. “I’m happier now than I think I’ve ever been.”

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