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Autism charity goes green with horticulture courses

ByPeter Barron

Oct 16, 2018

ONE of the North-East’s most respected horticultural experts is teaming up with a pioneering charity to run courses for gardening enthusiasts.

Mike Hirst, who was a senior lecturer in horticulture for over 34 years at Houghall College, in East Durham, will lead the courses for the North East Autism Society (NEAS).

Mr Hirst, vice chairman of the northern branch of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, already works with the charity, helping people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions through the joys of growing plants.

NEAS is developing its New Warlands Farm, at Edmondsley, near Durham, as a horticulture and wildlife haven for service-users, and it is now an official Royal Horticultural Society training centre.

The next stage is for Mr Hirst to start running RHS Level 2 and Level 3 courses in horticulture for anyone interested in becoming more green-fingered. There is also the offer of additional short-courses in the likes of pesticides and mower maintenance.

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “We have lots of land and wonderful horticultural facilities at the farm, and we’ve already seen how much our service-users enjoy growing plants. It’s peaceful, relaxing, and rewarding, and some of the produce they’ve grown is spectacular.

“We just thought it was time to go a stage further and having someone of Mike Hirst’s expertise working with us gives the courses real credibility.”

Mr Hirst said the courses would be aimed at all aspects of horticulture, including crop, amenity horticulture, horticulture science, plat propagation and crop protection.

He said: “The farm is such a wonderful site and the charity wants to make more use of it so, as well as the service-users benefiting from it during the day, we thought about opening it up to the community in the evenings and putting on these courses.

“There’s flexibility over which evening we run the courses – it’s just a question at this stage of gauging interest and seeing what people prefer.”

As well as the land, greenhouses, and poly-tunnels, the course members would also have use of an outside classroom building that can accommodate up to 20 people. Fees would be used to support NEAS activities.

“It’s a chance to learn more about horticulture, make new friends, and also support a great charity at the same time,” said Mr Hirst.

An “Apple Day” is being held at the farm between 10am and 3pm on October 20 when people can discuss courses with Mr Hirst. It’s also a chance to find out more about the huge variety of apples grown in the UK.

Anyone wishing to find out more should contact the training team at NEAS on 0191 410 9974 or by email at training@ne-as.org.uk