Dozens of young people in County Durham with learning difficulties are getting invaluable work and life experiences down on the farm with the help of a £3,000 grant from Newcastle Building Society.

Consett-based charity Learning for Life has set up a partnership with Lorna and Ian Adamson of the new Haystax farm experience at Knitsley for people with special needs and their families.

Haystax will provide a range of different opportunities for the charity’s learners, which will enable them to gain invaluable work experience and help them prepare for living independently.

Members of the group have already contributed to the first stages of the project by helping to plant over 3,200 trees around the Haystax site.

Learning for Life also plans to have a classroom on the site where learners will study animal care, horticulture, domestic and customer service.

The Newcastle Building Society funding is being provided through its Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which offers grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network.

In the first half of 2021, the Society has been directing its support to a range of projects tackling issues linked to employability, as part of helping its communities manage, mitigate and recover from the impacts of Covid-19.

Originally established in 2004, Learning for Life provides bespoke education packages and social care support for vulnerable and disabled young people aged 16 and older.

It focuses on a wide range of areas to help its service users prepare for adulthood, including employability, good health, independent living, friends, relationships and community inclusion.

The charity currently supports more than 50 young people from across County Durham, Gateshead and Newcastle, all of whom have a learning disability, and some of whom have additional health and/or behavioural needs.

It is set to open two new facilities in Newcastle later this year to further extend its work across the region.

Marie Matthewson, principal and head of service at Learning for Life, says: “Finding meaningful activities for young people with learning disabilities can often be a challenge, but it’s essential if they’re going to be able to work towards developing the skills and knowledge they will need to live independently.

“The support we’ve had from Haystax has been fantastic in this respect and receiving this funding from Newcastle Building Society means we have the resources to make the most of the opportunities that we have available.

“You can see a physical change in our young people as they go about their work through the pride they feel in being given responsibility for getting on with their job and seeing it through, and the difference it makes to their confidence is immense.

“The tree planting was a wonderful experience for the learners, and they wore their Hi Vis jackets with great pride!

“Getting this sort of exposure to the outside world couldn’t be more important for their personal development and future prospects.

“It’s an exciting prospect for the learners to have these wonderful experiences in the wider world of work, and receiving Newcastle Building Society’s backing means we’re able to do much more than would otherwise have been possible.”

Linda Creegan, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Middle Street branch in Consett, adds: “Learning for life makes such a positive difference to so many families across our community and it’s wonderful to see the impact that their support has on the lives of local young people who need that extra bit of help to start realising their potential.

“We’re committed to helping our communities recover from the effects of Covid through our focused grant-giving. Learning for Life’s work with Haystax is a perfect of example of how small grants can be used in big ways to create a lasting impact.”

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has also contributed over £2.1m in grants and partnerships to a wide variety of charities and projects across the region, including the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Prince’s Trust.

The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.