At High Farm in Botton Village, Danby Dale, these are qualities that are essential every minute of every day where social farm manager Robin Asquith looks after the farm, providing care and support for the people who work there.
The village, situated in a delightful, quiet corner of the countryside, is where the Camphill Village Trust set up a community, wholly designated as being for those with a disability after reaching adulthood, back in 1955.
It has had various discussions on its position over paid employees and volunteers over the years due to its charitable status, but it remains a beacon and probably one of our country’s finest examples of how those with learning disabilities and mental health issues can live, work and enjoy while also engaging with the public through modern social care provision.
The farming operation, run across 650 acres, provides opportunities for those who live in the village and for those who come from family homes in villages elsewhere to take part in the various agricultural activities.
“Our aim on the farm,” says Robin. “And at other Camphill Village Trust sites, of which there are six that have farm involvement across the ten, is to create a sustainable enterprise in a meaningful way that enables the men and women who come here to develop new skills and hopefully also progress to leading an independent life and taking up employment elsewhere.
“It’s a fantastic feeling when you see smiles on faces and that makes our jobs here at Botton Village really rewarding. We have a great farm set-up and wonderful facilities that allow us to make tasks achievable for everyone who comes to work with us and every single person is made to feel part of the team. We have five full-time staff other than me.
“The maximum number of people one team member on the farm will be responsible for is four; and where it is necessary it will sometimes be one-on-one. It is by its nature a role that requires an immense amount of patience.
“It is very different to training someone who has no disability, and the determination to help and at the same time get the balance right between helpfulness and allowing the person to do things on their own is a fine art. It’s not within every farmer’s skillset or mindset to have the patience required, especially when you know there are jobs that need to be done and you want to get on with them more quickly than you sometimes can, but that’s all a part of why we are here.”
Robin came to Botton Village three and a half years ago having previously worked at The Hayshed in nearby Commondale where he ran a smaller farming operation also for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues.
He was conferred a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, which provides funding for visits abroad in order to broaden minds and further develop farming and agriculture in the UK.
“My topic was ‘The Role Agriculture Can play In Delivering Social Care’. We need greater awareness of what can be achieved in the UK. I visited Canada, Ireland, Scandinavia, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands and I’d say we have a lot of catching up to do. We are behind most other countries I visited in our social care provision through farming. I’m aware greater funding would be necessary for it to be improved.”
Botton’s farmland is all down to grass. The acreage also includes 100 acres of woodland managed by a full-time forester. It is a livestock farming operation with dairy and beef herds, sheep and pigs – and it is a busy time in the spring with calving and lambing.
“We have a milking herd of 25-30 mainly Dairy Shorthorn cows, breeding all our own replacements. The milk goes into our on-site creamery where those who live here make artisan cheeses. We also pasteurise and sell bottled milk. The milk is sold in the village and other local villages. We supply a pop-up shop in Castleton.
“It’s a low input system with everything organic. We don’t push the cows for milk production. We also have a beef suckler herd of 20 pure Aberdeen Angus cows. We have just a few left to calve. Our beef cattle go to Langthorne’s at Brompton near Northallerton for processing before coming back here to be sold from our own village butchery.”
Lambing has just finished. Robin has a flock of 100 Mules put to the Texel tup that he is gradually increasing having inherited what he describes as a bit of a mish-mash of crossbreds.
“We are restricted in some ways by our organic certification. In the past that has meant we’ve added whatever we can that was certified organic. We are now trying to produce something that becomes the same quality and consistency every time.”
It is currently a tough time at Botton Village, as they are a registered charity and rely on funding. Income for the farm also comes through those who have disabilities using their own individual support streams, which provide their social care provision.
“The charity took the decision to stop all of those who were coming to Botton before the coronavirus lockdown.
“We are not receiving any of the support we would have been, had people been coming.
“We are relying purely on fundraising to generate income at present. We are continuing to provide learning opportunities, admittedly from afar, but it keeps us all in contact and hopefully avoids that feeling of isolation from our lovely community.
“We are running our own virtual Zoom sessions.”
What Botton Village has always had in abundance is community spirit and its farming operation, plus woodworking shop, butchery, creamery and shop provide a unique environment in which those with disabilities can learn, laugh and flourish in a safe manner.