Coming up to Christmas, we all think about giving to charities, especially to local ones. One of our most local charities is the Oak Tree Farm Rural Project, which gives adults with learning difficulties some realistic work-experience on a small-holding.
This coming Saturday (December 5th, 11am-2pm) you can even go along in person to its ‘seasonal open day’. Handmade wreathes and other gifts will be on sale, the plant nursery and pottery shop will be open, and of course you can drop in to the famous ‘Oak Leaf’ tearoom.
In fact this coming few months will be very busy ones for the project, because it celebrates its thirtieth birthday next year. The idea is to make this birthday its biggest and best!
If you have never been to Oak-Tree, it is about four miles from Draycott. Drive south from Draycott, go through Cresswell, go straight along, through Hilderstone, all the way to the crossroads on the main road. Oak Tree is just the other side of this junction.
It was all started back in 1986, when the Sandon Hall Estate gave the use of a few acres to some volunteers who felt that their grown-up children – all of whom had learning difficulties – needed more than just bingo and cups of tea to exercise them.
Down the years 200 volunteers have given active support, with over one hundred ‘clients’ being able to come along and take part in the project’s activities.
Even today, there are around 25 regular volunteers, some of them being university students and some who have been coming for years. There is a small paid staff who ensure day-to-day continuity.
Two people who are still helping to run the place after all these years are Monica Moreton and son David. Monica was one of the founders, and, a year later, she persuaded David to come and do a stint – and he has been there ever since!
In 2014, the site won the Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
The activities are geared toward the abilities of the clients, but it still has to run as a working farmyard – with animals and plant nurseries and gardens – so everyone is called on to perform real tasks. The project, charity though it is and with about half its money provided by Social Services, still has to make extra money from the farm products and tasks in order to survive.
As one walks through the yard, one can see the well laid-out greenhouses & polytunnels and the stables… but also an equipped pottery, and some work-rooms. Everything developed on the site is for sale – the ceramics, the flowers and the vegetables (and the Xmas wreaths!).
Some of the lads are even employed to be part of a commercial garden-services outfit, going out to cut grass and do gardening for organisations such as churches and public concerns.
But the most-visited part of the complex is of course the ‘Oak Leaf’ tea room, which is open to the public six days a week. It is so popular that you have to book ahead if you want to be sure of a table at lunch-time!
In here, the learning-disabled serve tables and work in the kitchens, being encouraged to apply for food-hygiene certificates, so that they can really do the whole range of what is asked of them.
It all seems to work very well. The volunteers are happy, and the ‘clients’ are so enthusiastic that they demand to come from as far away even as Great Wyrley in south Staffordshire.
As David Moreton told us: “Oak Tree grows confidence, it gives experience, and it provides occupation. The fact that the place is run as a business makes it very real.”
Next year, you will be hearing a lot about Oak Tree. Fund-raising is going to step up a gear because the current site is proving too small, and the desire is … if it is possible … to find a new bigger patch of land.
But, you don’t have to wait in order to donate.
If you want to put a local charity on your Christmas list, you could do worse than select Oak Tree. There is a Virginmoneygiving.com online site (charity no 1138396), or you can email Oak Tree for more details.
However… if you really fancy something special for your pound, you can always donate a brick (sort of!).
If and when you go along (the farm site is open week-days – check the website), you will notice that the path to the tea-room is made up of brick paving, and all the bricks are engraved with the names of their donors or their donors’ nominees. Now…. there’s a nice Christmas gift to give!
And … now that you have read this article … can you think of another charity in or around Draycott that deserves our attention? Just use the comments box below (or email us) to let us know of your choice