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Flying high at The Barn Owl Centre

Homeless and in trouble with the police, Vince Jones was on the "wrong path" – until his relationship with barn owls saved his life. Now he runs social enterprise The Barn Owl Centre

Vince Jones at The Barn Owl Centre

In care between the ages of 12 and 16, Vince Jones (pictured above and below) experienced a tough childhood. After leaving care the rebellious youngster flew from job to job and business to business while sleeping on benches, in his work van or a barn.

But thanks to his interactions with owls, which he first encountered while exploring as a child, the 53-year-old has glided back on to the right path and now runs successful charity, The Barn Owl Centre of Gloucestershire, based just yards from where he grew up at Netheridge Farm in Hempsted.

“I was out late at night from when I was just four years old looking for bird nests because I wanted to know more about them,” says Vince, who found his first friend in nature in a hedgehog he named Spike. “But I got on the wrong path, and because of the trouble I got myself into as a youngster, I became homeless.”

I realised that I liked animals better than people and felt more comfortable with wildlife

He fell into the wrong crowd, got in trouble with the police and was placed in care. Afterwards he drifted between jobs, running plastering and building reclamation firms. By 1997, the premises where he had stored his building materials were beginning to become overrun with mistreated barn owls and other feathered friends.

“I realised that I liked animals better than people and felt more comfortable with wildlife,” he explains. Vince had always been into falconry and birds of prey as a hobby and, after researching the commercialisation of barn owl breeding, he decided to step in to do something about it.

Vince Jones with rescued snowy owl

This led to the formation of the Barn Owl Centre, which took full flight in 2003 when it was awarded registered charity status. Last May the charity received an investment of £25,000 from Big Issue Invest, which helped it to really take off, allowing a fundraiser to be employed and to get the Trust’s location set up to welcome visitors. Now not only will Vince have benefitted from getting close to nature – and his owls to their new home – but others can see these magnificent animals up close too.

And Vince, who provides 24-hour security for the owls on-site at the centre, is now allowing the birds that had such a calming influence on him to help others.

I have seen the owls improve people’s self-confidence and communication skills

He says: “The owls bring people out of themselves, and I have seen them improve people’s self-confidence and communication skills as well as being calming. I want to show that you can bond with birds just by spending a little bit of time with them.

“The owls we take in have often been mistreated or homeless but they deserve an identity so we give them a name and spend the time with them. Both people and birds deserve that respect.”

Alan Tudhope, investment manager for Big Issue Invest, has witnessed first-hand the growing success of the centre that Vince has established. “We love visiting the Barn Owl Centre,” says Tudhope. “What Vince has achieved is a powerful reminder of what an individual can do if given the opportunity – including those who have a history of homelessness.”

  • INVESTING FOR YOU

Big Issue Invest is the social investment arm of The Big Issue. We help develop social enterprises and charities by providing investment from £20,000 to £3m. To discover if Big Issue Invest is the right partner for you, visit bigissueinvest.com

Vince says: “We have 50 birds now and a lot of them have been with us since day one and some have come to us over a period of time.

“Twenty-six of the 50 had been kicked and punched by a previous keeper and we rescued them at the end of an RSPCA cruelty case. We cared for the traumatised birds to give them a safer life where they can educate people.

Harry Potter has helped in some ways and not in others. People need to know that it is not a game and they need to take things seriously. We look at it like mental health for humans and it is exactly the same for animals.

“I have basically built my own care home. I can look at them individually and see the bird and their problems and try to help – I wish that would have happened to me as a child.”

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