History

Historical Highlights

1991 – EEC Funding

 Receiving EEC grant chequeShropshire County Council, keen to make the most of the innovative idea of farming for people with learning disabilities, sought external funding for the project. In October 1991 the European Social Fund of the EEC (now the EU) gave a grant of £57,770.

 

Farm Shop opened

First farm shop at the farmAn outlet was needed for the fruit, vegetables and eggs that were being produced. As there was no greengrocer in Ditton Priors village, the obvious solution was to open a farm shop on site. At the time, this was a new concept, as it was before widespread diversification in farming which has seen farm shops springing up all over the country.

 

1990s – Christmas Fair

Oak Farm stall at the village Christmas Fair

Joining in local community events has always been very important to us, so from the earliest days we have taken part in as many of the Ditton Priors village celebrations as possible.  This photo shows our stall at the village's annual Christmas Fair, which was held in the old village hall until the new hall was built.

 

 2003 – Cookbook

The Oak Farm recipe book

To celebrate and promote the wide range of Oak Farm produce, a recipe book, Oak Farm on a Plate! was produced for sale in the Farm Shop and in the associated Tea Room, which had just been refurbished (it is now The Willows Café). Shaun HillLeading British chef Shaun Hill, then proprietor of The Merchant House Michelin-starred restaurant in Ludlow, was kind enough to take an interest in the project and wrote the preface.

  

2004 – Royal visit

Princess Anne's visit

Everyone at the farm was very excited and honoured when HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, visited. There was a lot of hard work to prepare for the royal visitor, making sure that everything was clean and tidy – or at least as much as it could be on a working farm! On arrival the princess was presented with a posy, then had a guided tour of the farm and planted a tree in the front garden.

 

2010 - 20th birthday

20th birthday cake

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – and Oak Farmers love a party!  So we decided to have a really big party to celebrate the first 20 years of the Oak Farm day service.  As there were so many people there, we had to have a huge cake, to make sure everyone got a piece.

 

2010 - WI Jam Festival winner

WI Jam Festival

Making and selling jams and chutneys from the fruit and vegetables grown on the farm is a big part of our work. When the National Federation of Women’s Institutes decided to hold the first National Real Jam Festival it was suggested that we should enter. In November 2010 a pot of our blackcurrant jam was sent down to Denman College, and we were over the moon to hear that we had won the Cottage Industry class. The WI judge’s comment on our jam was just one word: “Perfect!”.

15.11.11 - CIWM award

Composting Scheme award

The Chartered Institution of Waste Management runs highly-respected national award schemes, including one for recycling projects. Oak Farm is dedicated to re-cycling and re-using everything possible – there is more information about this on the Aims and Community pages.  On 15th November 2011 we were very proud to be awarded the title Community Recycling Champion of the Year for Oak Farm’s Community Composting Scheme.


2012 Holiday at Saintes, France

French holiday

In June 2012 a group of us flew to Bordeaux for a week’s holiday at the Château Fief Gallet. We had a wonderful time, visiting the local market, the Hennessey brandy distillery, and the pretty little village of Talmont sur Gironde. At the château we swam in the pool, had barbeques, played card games and watched the wildlife.

 

July 2012 – MP’s visit

Philip Dunne's visit

We are very pleased that our MP, Philip Dunne, has long been a supporter of Oak Farm. He came to visit us on an Open Day during the national Carers’ Week in July, then wrote about it on his website.

 

2013 – National Recycling Awards 

NRA Spring 2013 brought the news that we were finalists in the National Recycling Awards

 

 

January 2014 – Jam Hut

Baking in the Jam Hut

The arrival of our new portacabin kitchen meant that all the cooking of our jams and chutneys, and our baking, could be done in a proper facility, instead of in the main common room kitchen. We christened it The Jam Hut, and people have very kindly donated all sorts of equipment for it.

 

 

 

May 2014 – Shropshire Women’s Institutes

SFWI

Our manager, Stuart Toulson, started giving talks to local WIs a few years ago, and they were always kind enough to make a donation to OFFA in lieu of a fee. Then Stuart was invited to be a speaker at the annual meeting of the Shropshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, held at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury. He was so well received that an impromptu retiring collection totalled over £650 for OFFA!

 

November 2014 – Container storage

Delivery of containers

Lack of storage space has been a problem for some time, not improved when our old Dutch barn was demolished because it was leaning like the tower of Pisa. In November James’ parents very kindly arranged for us to have two containers, which were parked on the site of the demolished barn. Now we have secure storage for our mowers, garden furniture, etc.

 

 

 

2015 - 25th Birthday

 Silver Jubilee partyLots of celebrations have been going on in Oak Farm’s Silver Jubilee year, especially our huge birthday party in July.  There was another superb cake, of course!  

25th birthday cake

 

At the same time, big changes are happening behind the scenes, as Shropshire Council have given the farm to the Ditton Priors Community Land Trust, who are now our landlords, so we really do belong to the village. Now we are looking forward to seeing what the next 25 years brings.

 

How it all began

By Stuart Toulson, Manager

 Stuart ToulsonIn August 1989 Joyce and Tom Jervis retired and finished farming at what was then called No. 1 Small Holdings.

A very forward-thinking woman had a long-held dream of developing a vocational day service in South Shropshire for people with learning disabilities, because at that time such people living in this part of the county had to travel to day services in Telford. That woman was Laura Tullett, and when she heard that a smallholding was being vacated in Ditton Priors she began the process of obtaining the tenancy for what was then Shropshire County Council’s Social Services Department. In 1990 Laura’s dream was finally realised, and the first people started to come to Oak Farm in the Autumn of that year, spending a few hours each day getting used to the farming environment.

In October 1990 I asked my wife, Alison, to get me a Farmer’s Weekly magazine. She was on maternity leave as our son Tom was just a few weeks old. Alison rang me at my then workplace to say that there was an advert in the jobs page for a Day Service Officer at Ditton Priors Rural Unit. I had no idea what a Day Service Officer was or did, but I applied for the job because the project was new and I thought it might be exciting to be involved with something different for a couple of years.

I was short-listed and offered an interview at the farm. When I turned up for it the first person I met was Jenny Banks; she walked out into the yard with a big beaming smile and greeted me warmly. I was led into the house, where Peter, Richard, Linda and Ros were waiting to interview me. I think that this demonstrates how progressive Laura and Jenny were in enabling people who use services to have a valuable input into who they want to have working with them.

I was lucky enough to be appointed, and it was then that I realised that although I was well qualified to do the farming, I knew nothing about working with people with learning disabilities. Jenny and Laura soon put this right, giving me a fantastic grounding, and investing a lot of time in helping me to gain valuable knowledge. However, I think I learned most from the people who used the service here in the early days, as the environment lent itself to working alongside them. They learned agricultural and horticultural skills from me, and I learned about their lives and issues from them.

When we first came to Oak Farm there were five grass fields totalling 28 acres, as Tom and Joyce had been dairy farmers. There was just a single strand barbed-wire fence round each field. Thinking back to that time makes you realise just what has been done here to develop the facility, and to create a good working environment for people.

In 1990 we started off with seven people using the service. We were bussed out from Halesfield, Telford, and spent the initial weeks planning what we were going to do. Dear old Tom Jervis used to come in and light the fires in the house for us in the early days, which was very valuable, as we may all have frozen to death otherwise.

As we started to develop the work pattern at Oak Farm, more and more people became interested and we very quickly doubled the number coming. Since becoming operational we have given service to over 80 people. Some have stayed a short time, unfortunately some are no longer with us, and others like Richard, Linda Wilson, Sue and Iain have been with us from the start. We now have over 50 people who come to work with us each week, with a fairly steady inflow of potential new farmers interested in joining us.