Lincolnshire woman gets confidence boost from National Lottery funded farming project
With her wellington boots caked in mud, Gabby Cook looks every inch the experienced farmer as she strides across the field with several guests beside her.
“We make sure they’ve got water and hay; collect the chicken and duck eggs, then we sort them out,” she says, pointing to the grazing sheep with a smile.
Few would be able to guess that until recently, Gabby would have struggled to explain the workings of the farm with a group of strangers.
Finding her feet
But, that was before she found support from the Askefield Project, a registered care farm that helps people with mental health conditions to improve their wellbeing by spending time on a working farm.
“It’s made me have more confidence to talk to people,” Gabby says. “When I first started coming, I wasn’t that good on my legs and since I’ve been coming, nearly 17 months, I’ve been getting stronger, which is good.”
Watch the video below to hear more from Gabby and the Askefield Project.
Gabby visits the Askefield Project for two days every week, when the farm welcomes clients who help with animal care, gardening or building new outhouses on the 13 acre Lincolnshire site.
“I can near enough do everything,” Gabby says. “I had a go on the tractor up at the farm. With my disability, I didn’t think I could do it, but Chris said ‘just have a go’ - so I did - and I enjoyed it. I’ve helped Chris remove the battery in the tractor and put a new one in too, so I’ve improved.”
Getting everyone involved
Chris Blevins is the project director. He runs the farm along with his wife Hannah and their teenage sons. They moved to Lincolnshire 12 years ago, setting up a business selling farm-grown produce at local farmers markets.
They made the decision to open up the farm in October 2017, welcoming people referred through the NHS Mental Health partnerships scheme to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of farming.
“What we do here is not a secret science. We encourage people to get involved in what we’re doing,” Chris says.
“We have stuff planned for every day, but we’re small enough and flexible enough that if someone is feeling a little bit off-colour or doesn’t really want to get involved - or perhaps is feeling particularly great that one day – we can change from doing a small project to helping on a big project or vice versa.
Small grant, big impact
And their ambitious plans for the Askefield Project have continued to grow with the help of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund.
As the UK’s largest community funder, The National Lottery Community Fund works with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, funding ideas that help communities thrive, with people in the lead.
“National Lottery funding has been really beneficial for us; we were lucky enough to be given an Awards for All grant of £10,000,” Chris says.
Small grants like these can make a big difference to people and communities. Last year, The National Lottery Community Fund made over 12,000 grants totalling £511m and 86% were National Lottery Awards For All grants of £10,000 or less.
National Lottery funding has allowed the Askefield Project to become more wheelchair accessible. They’ve raised flowerbeds so that people with wheelchairs can get underneath at the plant-potting stations and they’ve built a new crew room, which has disabled access facilities, a tool room and tea area.
“We’ll be installing a new sensory garden that all our clients can get actively involved in and help plant. That will be a great creative thing for us to do together, and a great resource for future years,” says Chris.
Onwards and upwards
Meanwhile, Gabby’s passion shows no signs of dissipating. She’s taken on more responsibility at the farm and excelled academically, achieving two Diplomas in horse care and animal care from Riseholme College.
“I’ve done pretty well,” she says.
So well, in fact, that Hannah and Chris have said that when the next set of guests arrive, Gabby can give them the grand tour.