"Oak Tree Farm provides a unique working environment where people with learning difficulties gain the skills, independence and confidence to take them towards an active role in society"
charity and history at Oak Tree Farm
Oak Tree Farm provides training and supported occupation for adults with learning disabilities, known as Team Members, in a rural setting.
The project gives opportunity, support and encouragement for people to learn and improve their skills. It gives purposeful occupation to Team Members and can pave the way into sheltered employment for some people.
Oak Tree Farm is situated on a 6 hectare (15 acre) smallholding near the village of Hilderstone and is part of the Harrowby Estate of Sandon.
People attend Oak Tree Farm on a part time basis, often one or two days a week, to fit in with their other weekly commitments.
Team Members gain experience in the horticultural unit; growing plants, vegetables and cut flowers in our greenhouses, polytunnels, growing field or in the cottage garden. They may also assist with beef cattle, pigs, poultry and small animals or work in the fully equipped pottery, making ceramics of all kinds.
Acorn Garden Services (AGS) and Branching Out are divisions of the project and carry out gardening work, farm work and volunteering in the community.
The ‘Oak Leaf Tea Room’ opened in 2011, giving catering experience to Team Members. The Tea Room is open to the public for coffee, lunches and teas and can cater for groups.
Team Members are encouraged to build on their social and life skills as well as literacy and numeracy. Everyone is involved with the day to day activities of the farm and may take part in various craft and artwork as well as hands-on experience in the pottery and tea room.
Oak Tree Farm was initially set up by a group of parents and others interested in providing choice for school leavers with a learning disability. They first met in October 1986, the tenancy of the farm was signed in 1987 and charitable status was gained in June 1988.
The Registered Charity more recently became a Company Limited by Guarantee because it had grown significantly and wished to limit the financial liability for Trustees (Directors), all of whom are volunteers.
These Trustees are an elected executive committee who make policy decisions, co-ordinate forward planning and fund-raising and report to the membership at an Annual General Meeting. The Trustees make returns each year to The Charity Commission and to Companies House.
The Charity employs a General Manager and a team of staff including Rural Project Assistants and Coordinator, a Pottery instructor, Retail Catering Manager and Cook, a Team Leader for Acorn Garden Services and an Admin Supervisor. Many valued Volunteers also give their time to support the project.
Most Team Members are supported by Direct Payments, this is local authority funding agreed by their Social Worker.
Other sources of income include charitable donations, grants, fund raising, the tea room and the sale of goods, plants and pottery. Regular events are held to raise public awareness of the project and to encourage support.
Many items produced on the farm are available in the shop or the tea room and include seasonal goods, plants, flowers and vegetables, gifts, cards, terracotta and stoneware garden pots.
Visitors come to Oak Tree Farm from far and wide it is well supported by local people, organisations, funders and businesses. The work of the farm was featured on Channel 4’s Garden Club in 1995 and in 1998 ITV weather girl Charlie Neil visited to open the newly built Acorns Centre which had been funded by The National Lottery Charities Board.
There have been many important moments in the development of Oak Tree Farm. Memorably local celebrity Nick Hancock joined Lady Jane Harrowby (The Dowager Countess) to open The Oak Leaf Tea Room in November 2011. Then in October 2014 came Oak Tree Farm’s proudest moment, the project was presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service by HM Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire Ian Dudson CBE at a ceremony at Sandon Hall. More recently in 2019 the shop and plant sales were moved closer to the tea room and the new Shop was officially opened by the Countess of Harrowby, Lady Caroline, who was accompanied by her husband Lord Harrowby.