FarmAbility, a local Oxfordshire charity which uses agriculture and land-based activities to provide skills and practical work experience for people with learning disabilities and autism, has opened its new headquarters on our estate.
Participants, known as co-farmers, get the opportunity to work on a series of projects across our estate ranging from livestock management, tree planting and gardening to painting, woodworking and fencing.
FarmAbility’s Director, Sarah Giles, says she believes our link has helped the charity to survive lockdown.
“Quite simply, Blenheim saved our Covid bacon! By welcoming us two days a week both to Park Farm and the Pleasure Gardens, Blenheim enabled us to restart FarmAbility, despite social distancing restrictions.
“The relationship between the FarmAbility team and co-farmers and the various Blenheim Estate teams is fundamental to what we’re working to achieve as an organisation – an inclusive and accepting environment where people with learning disabilities have a purposeful and engaging outdoor occupation, and where all that they can contribute to and enrich is recognised and valued,” she added.
As part of the partnership, co-farmers also look after their own vegetable bed and a safe area in one of our glasshouses for potting up and winter gardening activities.
“Covid-19 and the period of lockdown highlighted how critical it is for people to have good and regular access to outdoor spaces for health and well-being, and even better if they have active and purposeful activities in those spaces,” said Sarah.
“This is particularly important for people with learning disabilities who face systemic challenges to enjoying an outdoor, active life,” she added.
FarmAbility hopes to offer more places for people with learning disabilities by building on partnerships with other farms, landed estates and green spaces around the county. The charity is also aiming to restart its schools programme and a project welcoming older people with dementia to FarmAbility sessions hosted by co-farmers.
One of their key short-term targets is to get a minibus which would allow them to use Blenheim as a hub for co-farmers to travel to other farms, estates, woodlands and gardens in the area.
“Our relationship with FarmAbility has benefitted so many co-farmers already and for every £1 invested into the programme, £4 of social return is generated,” said Blenheim Estate’s Roy Cox.
“The co-farmers have such a positive impact on life at Blenheim and we are delighted to provide a permanent base for them, and hopefully others in future years at the World Heritage Site,” he added.
FarmAbility is one of a series of community-based charitable programmes we support. As part of our ground-breaking land strategy, we also committed to sharing our land with a wider audience to promote the benefits both of exercise and interacting with the countryside for mental and physical wellbeing.