North East Connected

Gardening course reaps rewards for autism charity

GREEN-FINGERED enthusiasts are being encouraged to sign up to study for qualifications in horticulture and support a pioneering North-East charity at the same time.

Following a successful launch at the end of 2018, the North East Autism Society (NEAS) is continuing with Levels Two and Three of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society gardening course.

The charity’s award-winning New Warlands Farm, near Edmondsley, in County Durham, is hosting the weekly evening classes from September. They will be led by a team of highly-qualified horticulture staff with extensive knowledge and many years of experience.

The courses will include theoretical and hands-on teaching, and anyone interested in extending their knowledge is welcome – whether amateur gardeners or professionals.

Course tutor, Mike Hirst, is one of the North-East’s most respected horticultural experts and has been working with the charity for the last four years, helping people with autism and other neuro-diverse conditions through the joys of growing plants.

He says: “This is an ideal course for anyone wanting a more detailed knowledge of horticulture, whether in a professional capacity, or just for their own personal enjoyment and development.

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

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “We have about 80 acres of land and wonderful horticultural facilities at the farm. We’ve already seen how much our service-users enjoy growing plants, and having someone of Mike Hirst’s expertise working with us gives these courses real credibility.”

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

Laura Tumilty, who works as an IT teacher for NEAS, attended the course last year to boost her horticultural experience.

“When I was young, I’d always enjoyed helping out on my parents’ smallholding, and after I was lucky enough to join NEAS, I was very keen to further my own knowledge, and to pass it on to the service-users.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning the technical side of horticulture, and this course covers all sorts of aspects, from plant knowledge, pruning, garden design, and even water features.

“I’ve seen how much everyone on the course has enjoyed it, and we all share our different experiences – it fuels your enthusiasm.”

Plans for the future at New Warlands Farm include creating an orchard of 800 apple trees, of about different 150 varieties, with a view to producing apple juice and cider to sell.

Booking for the course is now open, and anyone wishing to find out more should contact the training team at NEAS on 0191 410 9974 or by email at

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