Social Enterprise 4
TOP BARN TRAINING
Noelle Wilson had the dream of creating an agricultural college training people with learning difficulties, physical disabilities and challenging behaviour. Phew! Not much of a challenge then.
So what are social enterprises? They are organisations that provide goods or some sort of service for a social purpose.
At Top Barn Training, we feel we are a social enterprise because, although we are funded by contracts with statutory organisations, we provide training and opportunities for people with a huge range of challenges, such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities and challenging behaviour and all our profit is ploughed back into the business for the benefit of all our students.
We run lean. We don’t exist on grants, but are paid per student or per group and so we are only as good as the work we can bring in. All of us teach, we have no admin staff or cleaners and we have to deliver on financial targets as well as social targets or we will fail.
We started seven years ago when David Harper, a Worcestershire farmer, and myself, a tutor at Hartpury Agricultural College, met together to talk about a dream we had shared for ten years, that of using Top Barn Farm as some sort of centre for agricultural training.
After a huge amount of research and discussions with schools, colleges, the Careers Service, (as it was then) and Social Services we gained a contract with Social Services for 50 adults per week to attend for one day per week.
But we had to build the centre! David Harper provided a scraped yard and two very aged portacabins and together we began to build paths (essential as it was November and we had wheelchair users), poultry runs and houses, and gardens.
Gradually we attracted other users, such as students funded by Pershore College and Worcester College of Technology. Then local pupil referral units and schools began to send their more difficult pupils who couldn’t hack national curriculum and who needed to be outdoors using their muscles as well as their brains.
Any profits always went back into building new and better facilities - not into paying out dividends or our board of directors - and today we have a thriving smallholding with poultry, goats, Gloucester Old Spot pigs, calves and productive gardens supplying our farm shop and a local restaurant.
We have a sustainably built straw-walled workshop and a large timber cabin which has a large training kitchen where we train young people and adults in cookery skills using our own chemical free produce.
We also teach sustainable building skills and our present project is an earth bread oven and shelter where we can produce bread, pizzas and other delights. This facility will be available for local community group use.
With current student levels of 150 per week, Top Barn Training is a very busy place but has a very friendly feel with people from all backgrounds mixing freely together. It’s good to see a 15 year old school student with challenging behaviour eating his lunch with an ex-landscape gardener who has had a debilitating stroke.
Top Barn Training, Top Barn Farm, Holt, Worcester WR6 6NH
©2007 The Stirrer