Local housing provider Isos is helping people discover their own natural abilities.
For the not-for-profit housing association is boosting the work of Allendale based charity Natural Ability with a £9,600 grant.
Based at Allendale Forge Studios, the charity was set up by friends and neighbours Janice Walker and Annie Evans in 2009 to offer local, rural skills training for people who have learning and other disabilities.
Inspired by Annie’s son, Joe, who has a learning disability and who struggled to find opportunities close to home, the pair’s original vision was to run a farm where people could live and work in a supported environment, playing an active, meaningful part in the community.
But what has taken root is a full range of services, from land based work experience and training, to outreach activities for children and supported activity holidays.
Janice said: “We started by offering ‘day farming’ on local farms where people have the chance to do real work and have a commitment to that work, five days a week.
“It’s all outdoors, doing land based activities and jobs – that can be gardening, fencing, animal care, conservation, or environmental work.”
Currently 10 trainees, drawn from the Tyne Valley, work on small holdings or local farms that have signed up to the scheme, carrying out a variety of projects that can range from planting 1,300 new saplings at Carrshield, to caring for stock, or creating a new garden at the High Forest Community Centre in Sinderhope.
And the result of working outdoors, and in particular with animals, is little short of inspirational.
Janice said: “With one young man it took us half a dozen attempts just to get him out of the car to even look at the animals; now he brushes the horses and strokes them.
“There was another young man who, the first time he came to us he was accompanied by support workers, and all he did was pick up two leaves and put them in a wheelbarrow.
“Now, he really gets involved and his favourite phrase is ‘I can do it’ – and that’s what we’re trying to achieve: to help people feel positive and good about themselves and what they can do.”
“We like to say that we take a large sheet of paper and write the person’s name in the middle of it and ask ourselves what do they need, what do they envisage for their lives and how can we help them achieve that.”
Over the years the charity has introduced further opportunities, primarily for people with learning disabilities, but also for those with long term mental health needs and physical disabilities.
A children’s outreach service takes youngsters with complex learning disabilities and challenging behaviour into different social settings, enables them to take part in activities and, at the same time, gives their parents a bit of a break.
A supported living programme offers a package of care and support to four households; there’s help available for young people with learning difficulties as they leave school and make the transition to adulthood; and Natural Ability helps deliver specialist, one-to-one, education programmes, either home based or, in the case of part-time courses, at the Forge Studios.
Janice added: “We’re also in the process of applying for funding to provide local facilities for children who have autism, but without a learning disability.
“These children can find it very difficult in a school environment – their peers don’t understand them, their teachers often don’t understand them – so we’re hoping that we can bring therapists and specialists in to work with these children and help them.”
Also on the horizon is the possibility of running children’s adventure holiday clubs with activities led by specialist instructors. It’s something the charity has tried before and Janice is convinced there’s a real need for this kind of programme.
Of course, the holidays, like everything Natural Ability does, will be based in the beautiful Allen Valleys and that, Janice firmly believes, is part of why the charity’s work is so successful.
She said: “I think it really helps people being outdoors; it makes them feel better. And here, in this community, we’ve received a lot of support – the local people are very, very community spirited.
“We want our trainees to feel valued and part of a community; to feel that the work they do is meaningful and has a real purpose, and we try to carry that through everything that we offer.”
Isos Community Involvement officer John Temple said: “Natural Ability has a vital role to play in providing opportunities for people with learning disabilities that otherwise would simply not exist in a rural area like the Allen Valleys.
“The benefit of what the charity does isn’t hard to quantify – you can see it in the way the trainees enjoy what they do and take real pride in the work they carry out.”
For further information about Natural Ability, or to get involved with the work of the charity, email email@example.com