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 Centreof 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.
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.