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Clare’s action-packed week at OWL Town Farm Workshop, Two Wells and Costa Coffee!

Clare_Stubley_raises_a_cup_at_Costa_Coffee_in_Wimborne_2014 Clare_Stubley_at_work_at_Costa_Coffee_2014 Clare

“Clare is so popular with our customers. She is a real asset. When they go away on holiday they’ll send her a post-card or bring her back a present. Sometimes she gets flowers.

Clare takes everything in her stride and works so hard and is really dedicated in everything she does” Costa manager Sarah Wellstead

There is simply no stopping Clare Stubley. If she’s not waiting tables at Costa Coffee, you might spot her tilling the soil at a local market garden, or else weaving a bespoke scarf to sell online. Weekends are no less action-packed. There are places to go; friends to meet, her next foreign jaunt to plan.

Clare has Down’s syndrome and has needed care and support for 21 years, and is blossoming. Slowly, but surely, she is making her way in the world and enjoying her freedom and independence, supported by a team of friends, family and care staff.

The 40-year-old attends our OWL (Outcomes With Learning) service at Town Farm Workshop in Dorset - a rural craft and enterprise training centre for young people and adults with learning difficulties. Along with 35 other service users, she ‘clocks in’ every morning and sets to work on her loom, or else goes off in the van with the ‘Garden Gang’ to the nearby Rushmore Park market garden. For two and a half days a week Clare works at a coffee shop in Wimborne.

“Clare and I started at about the same time and she’s been a steady force throughout – always enthusiastic and ready to muck in with anything we do and eager to learn new skills,” says OWL service manager Helen Ritson.

“It’s been a madly enjoyable four years, and we’ve had some great times and some amazing experiences. Clare has played a huge part in the success of the place and we’ve been on this journey together.”

The OWL Town Farm Workshops are the model for Regard’s innovative OWL centres – a second opened at Cerrig Camu in North Wales last spring – which Regard aims to roll out across the country.

The craft and enterprise centre offers tailor-made packages focussed on supporting adults and young people with learning difficulties, mental health needs and acquired brain injury.

The workshops includes a pottery with its own kiln, 19 looms for weaving, and activities including arts and crafts, horticulture, sensory experiences, relaxation, music, IT, education, social skill development and lifelong-learning.

A large number of people who attend the workshops are in receipt of Personal Budgets or Direct Payments and live in either, supported living, residential care services, or come from their own or family homes. The working day mimics a typical work environment with individuals clocking in using a visual/photo board. Service users have set up their own council which has empowered them to make decisions concerning the running of the project.

“The ethos behind the project is to support choice, giving clients control of their lives and to create an environment where they can recognise and realise their potential,” says Helen Ritson.

“It also gives service users the ability to mix and make new friends. It allows them to be like everyone else: to go out to work and access their community and not be isolated in one place.”

Clare, who lives in a small service run by Regard in Cranborne, embraced workshop life from day one and wasted no time learning how to weave and with it the realisation she had a flare for making intricately-woven scarves and bags.

She and her co-workers sell their products in the OWL shop and at local festivals, craft fairs and exhibitions. Items are labelled with the creator’s name – half the price goes directly to them, and half back to the workshops for materials.

Earlier this year, Regard set up an online shop on its website where service users sell their woven scarves, bags and cushions and kiln-fired, hand-thrown pots. Orders have already started to come in for bespoke pieces. Regard has also commissioned the crafters to make cushions and homemade pots for its newly-opened services Park View in Weymouth and Connexions supported living service in West Cornwall.

When she’s not at the loom, Clare is most likely to be out in the fresh air with the OWL’s 11-strong ‘Garden Gang’. The workshops took over the 5,000 sq m plot complete with orchard in 2011, transforming the badly overgrown Victorian walled garden into a thriving market garden.

Supported by garden tutor Clare Gregory the team sell their produce on a mobile roadside stall and also supply the local pub and golf course with veg. Regard is also employing the gang to do garden work at their Northfields care home at Ringwood, Hampshire, and at its Regard for Children’s short break service for disabled children in Weymouth.

Meanwhile fruit from the garden’s ancient apple trees was ‘magicked’ into a foaming hot toddy for this year’s wassailing event (a ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year). The celebrations, one of a number of annual events that include a garden open day and the hugely popular ‘Christmas Shopping Fair’, organised by OWL staff and service users.

When she’s not up to her knees in muck, Clare can be found 22 miles away in Wimborne where she works at the town’s Costa Coffee – dealing with customers, clearing tables and washing up. The job began as a volunteer placement through Dorset County Council’s County Council’s Stepping Stones scheme that helps people with a learning disability find and sustain paid work. She is supported by supported staff from Regard’s Two Wells home where she lives, who accompany her to and from her job.

“She settled in amazingly quickly and was soon part of the team,” said Costa manager Sarah Wellstead. “She is the most wonderful person to have around. She is always really lovely and makes us all laugh.

“Clare is so popular with our customers. She is a real asset. When they go away on holiday they’ll send her a post-card or bring her back a present. Sometimes she gets flowers.

“Clare takes everything in her stride and works so hard and is really dedicated in everything she does. We wouldn’t be without her.”

So much part of the family has she become, Sarah Wellstead now attends Clare’s annual review with social services.

The ability to earn her own money has also helped Clare fulfil her life-long ambition: to swim with dolphins. Along with her adoring family she was able to visit Florida, for a holiday that has given Clare enough happy memories to warm up the frostiest morning back in Dorset.

“I have always wanted to do this. I have seen it on the television and it was just my dream. It was even better than I thought it would be. I’m now going to start saving up so I can go again!” says Clare.

Another highlight of Clare’s life was being among a group of OWL trainees chosen to be ‘official volunteers’ for the opening ceremony event in Weymouth Bay to mark the start of the Olympic sailing events in Dorset.

Along with nine other service users and four workshop staff, Clare joined more than 2,000 people to wade into the sea holding flaming torches to mark the start of Olympic sailing events in Dorset.

“It was so amazing. I have never had such an experience. There were so many people and it was brilliant fun,” says Clare.

For Clare, one of the best things about being part of a community is the opportunity to make new friends. And at her recent 40th birthday it was a chance to bring them all together to help celebrate her big day. With a guest list of almost 40 names, including family, friends from Costa Coffee and the Town Farm Workshops, she marked the event with a huge party at Sixpenny Handley Village Hall.

Clare is among eight OWL attendees supported to gain more independence through work through jobs and volunteer positions across the Dorset region. Members are working as paid gardeners, cleaners, speech and language co-trainers; one is working as a volunteer at a pre-school.

“Regular paid or volunteer work is the highlight of our service users’ time here,” adds Helen Ritson. “We support and encourage them all we can. They love being out in the community, and getting recognition for the contribution they make.

“Having responsibly increases people’s independence and gets them used to a world of work and having other people rely on them. The chance to have a job of work is something we all aspire to, no less people with learning disabilities.”

(This article appeared in Learning Disability Today)

OWL Town Farm Workshop


Providing work-related activity for adults with learning disabilities

Town Farm Workshop is an innovative project from Regard, We provide care and