“The farm is brilliant, without it I just don’t know where he would go” says Gillian Walsh, as she collects her son Thomas from Blue Bell Rural Activities just outside Colne.
Set amid green fields and with a beautiful view of Pendle Hill in the distance, Blue Bell Farm off Skipton Old Road is a day service for adults with learning disabilities with sessions structured around individual needs.
Set up in January 2011, the small community enterprise centre is the life of Jane Rogerson and partner Russell Holdsworth and provides an education in animal husbandry, horticulture and ecology.
Jane took redundancy from the NHS to set up the centre and Russell, a gas engineer by trade, has spent recent years training apprentices at Blackburn College before joining up full time. Jane said: “I worked in the care sector for over 16 years and I had worked with people with special needs.
“I thought there was a real need for people to be able to get up close and personal with animals so it was a perfect opportunity to set up from there really.
“We do animal care. We work around numerous animals; we have horses, pigs, sheep, goats, cats, rabbits and hens.
“We do gardening. People grow from scratch what they want to grow and take home. Our raised beds give everyone the ability to access the planting areas.
“And we also do eco-crafts, so we make things from recycled materials such as bug houses.”
With 10 regulars and 19 sessions a week across three days, Jane and Russell have young adults coming from as little as 200 yards away and from as far as 30 miles.
Sessions are priced at £40 for a half day or £75 for a full day and are value for money according to parents.
Gillian, who lives in Foulridge, said: “Thomas loves it. It’s like a job for him really, working with the animals. And of course, they’re out in the fresh air. It’s idyllic.
“They have a music session afterwards to let their hair down with a bit of a dance and a sing along.”
Sharon Hartley, from Colne, drops her son Gareth off safe in the knowledge he’s having a great time.
Sharon said: “It means a lot to us as a family. It gives Gareth space and a chance for us to have a break. The farm has been a bit of a lifesaver.
“It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s snowing, raining or sunny. They all love it. Being outside, working with animals and with really nice people. They are so good with him.
“He’s been going more or less since it started up. He’s a lot happier in himself, he’s more relaxed and I think it’s given him more confidence. It’s worth every penny.”
Jane said: “We work in small teams to individuals strengths, this in turn creates self-confidence, new friendships and self worth.
“The therapeutic elements of being close to animals and nature and the great outdoors is widely known.
“The animals are non-judgemental. They take you as you are. They don’t see if you’ve got fancy boots.
“If you’ve got communication problems or low self-esteem, giving a living being to someone to look after gives you a great responsibility, it empowers you, giving you confidence and helps break down communication barriers. They are so good to be with.
“People really go beyond their comfort zone because not a lot of people get to be hands on. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to like something until you touch on that subject.”
People learn about wildlife on the doorstep and caring for animals. This can be providing medication to Bruno, one of the farm’s poorly Kunekune pigs, or providing a home for an incomer hedgehog.
Growing vegetables is a hit with regulars to the farm who learn about composting and recycling materials while crafts are thrown into the mix too with volunteer Joan Sutcliffe.
Blue Bell received a year’s sponsorship from TSB in September of last year. Up until that point, Jane and Russell had self-funded its growth, however, the new year has seen a donation from Earby company Wardle Storeys and there are plans afoot to upgrade the farm’s facilities.
Jane said: “We must give a big thank you to TSB for the funding and Wardle Storeys for their kind donation.
“We are going to put that towards a new hardstand for the pigs.
“We have just got the architect involved and we are hoping to have a total refurb.
“All the animals would be in one place; the horses, the goats, the pigs can come in in winter, and the sheep can be inside in the same building. That’s the plan.”