I had the pleasure of visiting Little Gate Farm in Beckley on Tuesday February 4 where I met Jane Earnshaw who introduced me to Anthony Bailey, Joanne Gulliford and Ryan Inwads, three of the students who accompanied us on our tour of the farm. Little Gate, launched in 2014, is a very special place in the heart of the countryside whose aim is to support people with learning difficulties or autism into paid employment.
The supported employment programme in five stages includes discovery, an induction to the supported employment programme, development, learning skills whilst attending the farm, employment with a job coach, starting in a new job, transition, preparing for the next stage in life and graduation, leaving the farm.
With blue skies and the sun shining we started our farm tour, set amidst acres of woodland, paddocks with lakes and a huge variety of buildings many of which were hand built using wood from the farm.
The harvested wood is fashioned in to all manner of useful objects which are sold locally plus a charcoal retort burns for 24 hours at a time and provides a useful income stream. Here we met resident goats, Marbles, Izzy and Frodo, a flock of very tame sheep, chickens, Pippa and Miss Piggy (two enormous pigs), alpacas, horses and ponies, rabbits and ducks. All were in fabulous condition, looked after by a willing team of staff, volunteers and helpers.
Along the route we went inside a yurt, fashioned out of bamboo complete with woodburner and seating, a great space for meetings in colder weather and in the warmer months a Hobbit house is available for the public to hire for special occasions, an ideal hideaway if you want to get away from it all. imagine waking up to a herd of wild deer, badgers, foxes and wildfowl drinking from the lake adjacent, country living at its best.
So far, over 40 people with autism or learning difficulties have been helped into paid work and over 60 people come along each week for work training and a holiday club caters for children and teenagers. A trio of mini buses collects everyone who needs help with transport, from where they live and returns them home again later that day. Home could be a care home, hostel or or shared life property where they share a house with a family (similar to a foster home) and help out with the daily chores as part of their keep. The students get paid by social services whilst the paid staff (job coaches) get paid via the government Access to Work scheme.
The farm has 11 students employed on apprenticeships, but are actively seeking support from more local businesses and are always looking for new opportunities to offer work placements.
Once the apprenticeships start, the student’s stay at the farm comes to an end but most return regularly, their friends are there, they feel safe and valued there, they love the open space, the feeling of belonging and the chance to work outdoors and with animals.
The Rangers are the youngest element and the next tier of students to come through the system looking for support, training and the opportunity to change their lives with the prospect of paid employment.
I finished my tour with a cup of tea and a chat with my enthusiastic group of tour guides, they were still sniggering at having witnessed me falling down a hole and getting covered in mud, we all laughed together and I was sorry to leave but I left in a different frame of mind than when I arrived. Uplifted by the pride and huge sense of achievement from all the staff and students I met. A very worthwhile visit and an organisation I hope some of our readers will now support, if you do, you could get as much out of supporting them as your support would undoubtedly mean to all, down on the farm.
Image Credits: Nick Forman .