When our first child, Tara, arrived in our world with severe learning disabilities we had no idea what lay ahead. We have since been on quite a journey with her, a trip that has been poorly signposted and has required a lot of pushing and family adjustment to progress. Despite being a non-verbal communicator Tara has managed to emerge from her time in special needs education with some fairly clear direction for us, which is just as well because the system has offered little else to guide us.
At college Tara started on a hospitality course but soon voted with her feet and presented herself to the horticulture department because she enjoys life at home on the farm and clearly felt that the outdoor life was more her bag. During her five happy years at Derwen College our thoughts focused on her next stage and we started to shape a future for her at home. In 2018 we began giving college students daily work experience on the farm and ever since we have gradually expanded our offer for others to benefit and make friends with Tara, who runs the show!
We recognise that whilst young people with learning disabilities face many challenges, they also have great strengths. Rooted & Booted provides a safe and compassionate community within a very positive, nurturing environment to help our “farm troopers” find their niche and develop it. The level and type of support is dependent on individual need, and so, to ensure that each of our troopers receives the very best help, we ask that they are accompanied by their own support workers who already know them. We ensure the troopers and their support workers feel valued team members of our working farm and explain how each of their actions supports the wider aims of the business. We support and equip them to engage fully with the routines of the farm’s daily life, we help them understand what they are doing and we gradually develop skills to help them in their wider adult lives. Many day service centres design their activities to simply have fun; we very much have the fun but as part of a day filled with genuine purpose and learning outcomes.
We have even built a bespoke reception centre that is the focal point for a Rooted & Booted day. “Dave’s Cave” has a kitchen, loo and cloakroom as well as a lunchroom, chill out area and workshop. We have been trained by Social Farms and Gardens, the leading national charity for care farming, and Thrive, the gardening for health charity. We are also DBS checked and CEVAS accredited.
Rooted & Booted takes place on a 300-acre organic livestock farm that is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of busy roads in a very peaceful part of the Cheshire-Shropshire border. It has beautiful views, rolling grassland fields, hills, mature woods, ponds and a meandering brook. We have a flock of 600 sheep and a suckler herd of 26 cows with their offspring and a bull. The farm year revolves around the care/breeding cycles of the livestock and the production of nutritious grassland as we strive to make all our animals purely grass fed. We are part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme (mid-tier), we are certified as an organic farm by the Soil Association and are Red Tractor farm assured. We sell most of our animals at market or through third party organisations, but we also trade direct to customers as Hillside Organics with lamb and beef boxes. Now, with the arrival of Rooted & Booted, we also grow seasonal vegetables and sell them in boxes to local customers, thus providing an offer to suit everyone’s tastes!
A Rooted & Booted day for our troopers starts at 10am with a reception where the plan for the day is explained. This assembly sets the scene within the farming season and describes what is happening on the farm that day and what we hope will be learned. There is always a number of activities lined up that link in with farm’s main effort for that period and we make sure that everyone is suitably attired for the day ahead. We generally split the day into four 60-minute blocks with a generous spell in between for lunch. The troopers always operate with their support workers as a pair and work with other pairs depending on the nature of the activities allocated. We ring the changes as required with the emphasis on maximising engagement for all.
Lunch is a sociable occasion taken together in the comfort of Dave’s Cave once all hands have been thoroughly washed. Here we reflect on our achievements and look forward to the afternoon session which will often involve harvesting a bit of veg.
If you know of someone who might benefit from a Rooted & Booted experience then please get in touch.
David and Fiona Young