A North Tyneside falconry centre is helping young people spread their wings after teaming up with the British Red Cross.
DLS Falconry Centre, based at the Rising Sun Farm near Benton, is working with the charity to support its efforts to help tackle loneliness and social isolation.
The centre, which was set up in 2014 and is home to more than 25 birds of prey, has created a junior volunteer programme, which is helping to transform the lives of vulnerable young people in the area.
In collaboration with the British Red Cross, DLS Falconry is working with socially isolated young people to try to build their self-confidence by caring for the birds and providing them with a safe environment.
Among those to benefit is Daniel Ferry, 20, from Blyth, who first visited the centre more than a year ago with Red Cross Community Connector Michael Rickwood.
Severely depressed, Daniel had been unable to leave the house, but Michael persuaded him to come along to the centre to see the birds.
Now Daniel is a regular volunteer who not only cares for the birds, but has built the confidence to talk to visitors to the centre about the creatures and the work he does.
Daniel said: “Before I came to the falconry centre I quite honestly felt I had no reason to live. Then I held Jessica, a Eurasian eagle owl, and for whatever reason I instantly felt like I had found my place and couldn’t wait to come back.
“I now regularly volunteer and feel like DLS Falconry has quite literally turned my life around.”
The centre was set up by bird of prey expert Derek Curtis, a former pest control officer who has kept birds since he was a youngster.
After visiting schools and events with only a handful of birds from his home, Derek was offered the opportunity to set up a dedicated falconry centre at The Rising Sun Farm.
Derek said: “I have always loved birds. I have worked with a number of different organisations over the years, such as Age Concern and the Stroke Association, and it has been amazing to see how the birds can help individuals to overcome difficulties so I hope that our volunteer programme will encourage more people to feel the benefits too.
“The change we have all seen in Daniel has been quite remarkable; it was as though he held the bird and a spark inside him was ignited. He has now become a hugely valued part of our team at the centre.”
Louise Hedley, British Red Cross operations manager for independent living in the north, said: “The support of DLS Falconry has been vital for our Connecting Communities service in the area in terms of helping service users like Daniel to tackle their loneliness and social isolation so it doesn’t become a chronic way of life.
“Loneliness is more common than many people think, and the impacts can be devastating. Often it’s the little things which make all the difference, and opportunities such as this are a great way to enable the people we support to build their confidence and start to enjoy life more fully.”
DLS Falconry is now looking to develop relationships with other local charities to help other people like Daniel to deal with the day-to-day challenges they face.
The centre, which is open to the public, now houses a small education centre where local school groups and other organisations can learn more about birds of prey and gain hands-on experience of handling and looking after birds, including owls, hawks, falcons and kestrels.
The centre, which relies heavily on donations from the public, has also launched flying experience days where people are invited to take a walk through farm land with a Harris hawk.
To find out more about DLS Falconry visit www.dlsflconry.co.uk
To find out more about the Connecting Communities service in Blyth, contact Connectblyth@redcross.org.uk or go to redcross.org.uk/lonely