Cumbrian farm helps volunteers transform their lives
By Maureen Hodges
For the past three years, 31-year-old Rob has indulged in his passion for farming.
He loves to help feed and move the livestock and accompanies the vet during his weekly visits to Wallacefield Farm, near Armathwaite.
Rob, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, is part of a group of people with long-term mental health issues who, thanks to Susan's Farm, a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, are able to obtain an NVQ Level 1 in agriculture.
The centre for agriculture education is hosted by Susan Aglionby and her daughter Julia.
Susan still farms the 36-acre former Gosling Sike Farm, renamed Susan's Farm, which she donated to Cumbria Wildlife Trust several years ago. She runs educational tours around the farm for schoolchildren from local nursery, primary and secondary schools.
She also welcomes frequent visits from schools catering for children with disabilities and special needs and pupils from a referral unit, as well as groups of elderly folk.
An organic beef and sheep farm with geese and chickens, there is also a purpose-built education room.
Last year, 72-year-old Susan hosted nearly 400 visits and 4,000 visitors.
At daughter Julia's Wallacefield Farm, the two have visits each week from a group of long-term mentally ill people.
Chris, 60, was brought up on a farm, but from the age of 23 up until a few months ago, suffered from depression and spent his time in the Carleton Clinic.
"It's been a big challenge for Chris. Farming has altered a lot since he was last farming. He's having problems dealing with the organic side of farming," said Susan.
"My sheep were top class sheep. I went to auctions up until I was 16," Chris added.
Chris and Will, 62, went to the same school, and were both members of Ireby Young Farmers.
"We love to check the sheep, cattle and hens, and we move stock and help wean them," said Will.
"We work in partnership with Newton Rigg College in Penrith, and with CIC status we can obtain funding for staff to help us obtain the agricutural certificate for these young people," added Susan.
Alex, 33, loves working outdoors. Five years ago he named the group 'Farmer's Five'.
"It's grown since then," said Susan.
"It's quite demanding, but rewarding, both physically and mentally," said Alex, who admitted he had done some paid work at hay time.
"Susan pays a living wage," Alex continued. "She's strict, but fair.
"Farming is a dangerous industry, and we have to listen to what we are being told."
Julia said farming organically requires a range of diverse skills.
"Some work in a voluntary capacity, while others are paid. We do nothing contrived," she said.
"It is all work that needs doing. I wanted this group that comes here to get a qualification."
"Susan doesn't get paid either," said Alex.
"It's not just about our organic production," Susan continued. "We also have a unique educational facility both here and at Houghton that we have developed over the years."