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Growing vital skills with outdoor learning

By Andrew Pirie

The Family Care Trust is a charity in Solihull that provides support for people with memory problems and dementia, as well as work-based training for adults with learning disabilities. Here, manager Daniel Adams writes about the services that the charity offer, as well as sharing his advice for social workers around the benefits of learning and working outdoors.

Who are the Family Care Trust?

The Family Care Trust’s services split into a number of key areas. Firstly, we run The Blanning; a day centre for people with memory problems such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As well as offering a supportive environment for clients, The Blanning provides carers and relatives much-needed respite. 

Secondly, our Community Support Service helps people with mental health problems, as well as learning and physical disabilities, to live independently. Our specialist teams visit people 

in their homes to provide care and help them with day-to-day tasks, as well as emotional support. 

On top of this, the Family Care Trust helps adults with learning disabilities undergo work-based training through our Community Gardening Services. Here, project workers help people in the local community by carrying out a range of gardening and maintenance tasks. 

We also offer work-based learning at Newlands Bishop Farm, which is a fun, positive, farming activity centre in a rural setting, offering unique work experiences in horticulture, woodwork, gardening, horse and animal care, catering and retail. The farm includes a kitchen and café – and we also host events including weddings and corporate functions.

Helping to support those with learning difficulties.

This year, the charity is celebrating its 25th anniversary. We have an ambitious fundraising target to raise £250,000 to build a new facility at Newlands Bishop Farm to help hundreds more people with learning difficulties. 

Our plans include adding to the new garage with a workspace, which will open up to give us more space for teaching woodwork, as well as a 4,000 square foot café and kitchen area. This will allow us to provide more catering and hospitality training, creating wider employment opportunities for a greater number of project workers. 

We’re the only service of this kind in Solihull and the West Midlands, and with government-owned facilities becoming increasingly overstretched, or closing down altogether, it’s vital we continue to grow and improve. 

As well as the new facility, we’re further improving our services by expanding our team, investing in more machinery and tools for training, and finding more ways of helping our project workers grow in confidence, skills and qualifications. 

Growing skills and confidence. 

The setup at the farm is quite unique in that we offer project workers hands-on experience working with animals, gardening and growing food. There are numerous studies that show how beneficial working outdoors can be to a person's physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Learning and training in this sort of environment gives project workers the chance to exercise and get fresh air, as well as the sense of achievement that comes with caring for animals or growing food and plants. Research also shows that working outdoors and tapping into the seasons helps to ground us, reduces stress, and improves our overall health.

Even when we’re working indoors – preparing food in the kitchen, serving in the café or selling plants at our shop – our project workers benefit from the interactive and practical nature of the work. Understanding where food comes from and preparing lunches encourages healthy eating, further improving wellbeing.

Working as a team reduces isolation and creates a sense of community between the project workers and staff. The benefits combine to grow confidence and independence in our project workers.

Work and play.

As well as training our project workers with practical experience, we also make sure we focus on the social side of things too. We spend breaks and lunch together everyday and throughout the year we have socials, events and trips out. 

This helps our project workers learn social and soft skills, interacting with people in different environments, gaining confidence and of course, having fun.

Our aim is to support our project workers to get qualifications and the confidence and skills needed for employment. We collaborate closely with two of the local colleges to provide these qualifications, and liaise with families, carers and social workers to provide any additional support to help project workers at home, as well as when they’re with us.

Social worker support.

Over the years, we’ve built a strong reputation in the region among social workers. A lot of social workers come to our charity as part of their training while they’re at college or university, and this is often the first time they become aware of what we do. 

Because we’re a small charity, our local network is extremely important to us and we work hard to build relationships with social workers in the area. They appreciate having a reliable service nearby which they can refer their clients to, especially those who will benefit from outdoor, work-based learning. 

At the end of the day, our goals are the same – to help people with learning disabilities get the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to live happy, independent lives and, where possible, find a job. 

Although we’re based in Solihull, I’d strongly urge for social workers to find initiatives in their local area which encourage clients to work outdoors wherever possible. Not only are we teaching project workers practical skills, we’re helping them to develop in confidence and improve their overall wellbeing – something the social workers we collaborate with have experienced first-hand and are keen to support.

To find out more about the Family Care Trust, visit their website.