100 year old farm gets facelift to help disabled youngsters
Young Epilepsy’s St Piers Farm, which offers work experience and personal development skills to students with severe epilepsy and other complex needs, is to officially reopen on 26 September 2013 in Lingfield, Surrey.
Originally set up over 100 years ago, St Piers Farm has always proved to be popular with the students who attend Young Epilepsy’s St Piers School and St Piers College. Students who have severe and hard to manage epilepsy, some coping with up to 40 seizures a day and whose complex needs range from autism and severe learning difficulties, communication and mobility problems, really enjoy the environment. However, up until now the farm could not be used in poor weather conditions, it was difficult for students with mobility problems to access and could only cater for 14 students at any one time.
Now, thanks to an incredible quarter of a million pounds, generously donated by the public and local organisations, the farm now comprises six log cabin classrooms, four animal shelters, a hay store and a wetlands sensory walkway, all of which enables up to 80 students to take vocational and non vocational courses in animal care and horticulture.
As well as working with and learning about the animals, students sell the produce from the farm (eggs and meat) to the 800 staff on campus, learning new skills such as customer service, selling and working with money. Eventually students will also be able to gain work experience in a farm shop on site, and the farm itself will be open to other disabled children across Surrey, Kent and Sussex.
Will, age 23, has very severe epilepsy combined with mobility and posture problems. His attention is badly affected by epilepsy and he struggles to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. At the farm however he is totally different. He can focus for periods of 40 minutes. He enjoys holding the rabbits, walking the ponies, and petting the baby goats. If he has become agitated or distressed he is calmer on the farm. He is also practically minded and has worked on the farm clearing out the pens, and building a pond for the ducks. This year he is taking his Duke of Edinburgh award with major components in horse riding and travel training. This will be an incredible achievement for a young person who struggles to concentrate and it was made possible for him to enter because of the experience and aptitude he has shown on the farm.
Karen Grist, Head of St Piers College at Young Epilepsy, said: “St Piers Farm provides young people with epilepsy and other complex needs with a fantastic practical sensory learning experience. Looking after animals is rewarding and motivating, students can see and feel the effect of their work, for example; feeding the animals, caring for them, monitoring their health and looking after the newborns when they arrive. Learning farm tasks holds their attention, generates affection, builds on skills and develops new skills and can be a huge confidence boost. The skills they gain are marketable and their efforts lead to tangible outcomes in the form of accredited qualifications and employability opportunities, which is a great motivator for them.”
David Hodge, Surrey County Council Leader, said: “This is a great example of the county council and residents coming together to make a real difference for young disabled people now and for many years to come. It's a fantastic facility and in particular it will give those with severe epilepsy an opportunity to learn and develop a host of skills. I’d like to remind other groups that they have until 24 October to submit their applications for the next round of funding for schemes of lasting benefit in the community.”
It was thanks to an unexpected £100,000 legacy donation that Young Epilepsy was able to begin the farm expansion and open its facilities to disabled children across Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Former St Piers student, Mabel White, lived on the Young Epilepsy campus between 1940 and 1943, during the Second World War. Mabel had epilepsy due to a childhood head injury and bequeathed the legacy because she felt that the care and education provided by St Piers had transformed her life. Other large donations were made by Surrey County Council’s Community Improvements Fund, Wates Family Enterprise Trust, Futures for Kids, Barbara Abbott and Southover Manor General Education Trust.