Farm work offers fresh starts

Acorn support worker Steve Cass shows Will Collier an American redtail buzzard.  Pic: Richard Ponter 152315a
Acorn support worker Steve Cass shows Will Collier an American redtail buzzard. Pic: Richard Ponter 152315a
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From TINY acorns mighty oak trees grow, a saying befitting of Acorn Community Care which is a charity offering people with a learning disability an alternative daytime provision – working on a farm.

Chris Holiday, who started the charity in 2003, with his wife Ruth said: “Our service users are contributing, they have ownership of this place and they feel valued. It’s about taking responsibility for the life of an animal, its feeding, care and cleaning.”

The eight-acre farm is home to 70 pigs, two horses, two alpacas, various ducks and chickens, vegetable plots and an orchard.

The charity works with adults with learning or physical disabilities from 18 to over 60, and also offers overnight respite care.

Chris said: “Our service users want to work but because of their disability they can’t, but here they get a chance to contribute to society. We show them that they are making a profit, by breeding raising and selling the pigs, and that money goes back into the charity to help keep it running.”

Chris and Ruth, who met while working for social services, decided they wanted to provide an alternative setting to get people outside.

“I first had the idea when I was taking people to a day centre and one young man wouldn’t get off the bus,” Chris said.

“He wanted to stay with me and work, instead of sitting in the centre. He was a great help and I realised that they were capable of so much more.”

Chris and Ruth then set up the charity, which began by recycling cardboard.

Chris said: “We were very grateful to Ryedale council who gave us a starter unit, but recycling commercial cardboard was quite boring and monotonous.”

The charity was then asked to help out with the ‘Safer Ryedale’ initiative, run by the police and the local council.

Chris said: “The police found that lots of elderly people couldn’t manage their gardens and when their gardens looked untidy, burglars were then targeting them.”

So the group began gardening and when one of their clients, at a farm in Norton, said they were leaving, they asked if the charity would be able to take on the tenancy.

That was in 2008 and since then the charity has been based at Whinflower Farm in Norton, near Malton.

Chris said: “It’s great here. We have lads with severe autism who come and have a scream and shout to get it out of their system and then get on with helping on the farm. Because of where we are, shouting doesn’t upset anyone like it would if we were inside.

“The animals, especially the horses and the alpacas, are great with the service users and help them to relax and be calm.”

Although Ruth comes from a farming background, neither Chris nor Ruth had any

farming experience but decided they wanted to give people with learning disabilities a chance to work on a smallholding.

Chris said: “We’ve had to learn it all together, as we’ve gone along. When we got chickens we all sat around waiting for the first egg which was very exciting.”

The couple then got a horse and a pony for the farm and two alpacas as well as three breeding sows.

Chris said: “We started with three breeding sows and now we have about 70 pigs on site, which we sell in small batches. We’re proud to say out meat is sold in Fodder [at the Great Yorkshire Showground].

“It was hard at first for some of the lads to get their heads around the fact that the pigs were going off to be slaughtered and it is bound to be upsetting at first, but we spent time explaining it all to them.”

The couple say they are looking forward to the charity’s future and have been touched by the help that local animal breeders and farmers have given them so far.

Chris said: “Ken Matthews, a local pig breeder, has sold us some pigs and then showed one for us which won at the Great Yorkshire Show last year. Paul Nicholson brings his sheep each spring to lamb here and, as the head butcher at Fodder, has helped us in so many ways.”

This summer, service users will be showing their own pigs at Ryedale Show.