Stepping stones to building a new life.
In society today, there are many people who, for whatever reason are unable to cope with or handle what might be considered a normal life. Men and women of all ages, some are highly intelligent people who may have suffered breakdowns, addiction, lack of self-esteem, have some form of disability or just have a total lack of confidence in dealing with life in the way the majority of us know it.
Just outside Leeds at Crag House Farm, sits a Christian charity called Caring For Life. It was founded in 1987, is run by Jonathan Parkinson and his team of volunteers and employees who provide a ‘port in a storm’ for as many as 240 beneficiaries on a weekly basis, one way Caring For Life helps is to provide support through daytime projects based on the farm, providing therapy and work experience for up to 90 individuals. Of the sixty staff employed, forty take on the pastoral work, as Jonathan Parkinson explains, “We Share the ‘Love of Jesus,’ bringing hope and purpose to many whose lives have been broken. We use our faith and rural life, agriculture, horticulture as a bridge between the challenges to the realities of life, faced by our beneficiaries. We help them with practical issues because there is little or no local support, so we provide care in many different ways, and it’s amazing to see the turn-arounds that culminates in an improvement in self-respect and confidence. Most other organisations move people on after around six months – But not at CFL, we offer support for life or as long as person wants or requires it”.
The agricultural component of the programme revolves around livestock farming on 85 acres - rearing breeds such as Longhorn Cattle and Lleyn sheep, whereas the horticultural focus is on plant production through sizeable, on-site greenhouse facilities. The nurseries are open to the general public on a commercial basis, where they can buy all kinds of plants and flowers. Originally the farm site consisted of old barns and crumbling buildings but charitable donations and fund-raising over the years has enabled the development of the facilities, so much so, that there is a stand-alone restaurant as well as a farm shop, both of which sells and uses home-grown produce from the farm. Some 75% of funding comes from individuals and Church’s, 20% comes from charitable trusts and grants while the remainder comes from the commercial enterprise. An old 17th Century barn was completely renovated into the restaurant and shop and with the help of some dedicated supporters, this social enterprise attracts many local visitors and clientele, and some of the beneficiaries help there.
Beneficiaries have a wide range of choice when it comes to daily activities. There’s drama classes, music, arts and crafts, equestrian, horticulture, animal husbandry, gardening, cooking and many, many more practical activities that are available.
“Our beneficiaries come to us in many different ways, commented Jonathan, “word-of-mouth, housing associations, the probation service to name a few. Our royal patron is Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, She has given us amazing support and advice. We’ve had support from all sectors of society. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth donated a Fell Pony for our equestrian centre, local businesses have been extremely generous and I can’t say enough about our local agricultural machinery supplier, Ripon Farm Services, who have helped us tremendously in finding the right equipment to run an efficient and cost-effective farming business.”
Ripon Farm Services supplied and services the farms’ John Deere tractors and grass harvesting equipment, plus two John Deere Gators, which are used extensively for grounds maintenance tasks and equestrian as well as feeding livestock. “The Gator has been an exceptional piece of equipment that has given our beneficiaries a lot of flexibility in carrying out new daily duties that they would otherwise have never experienced, enthused Jonathan. “everyone loves the Gator because it’s so easy to drive and, more importantly is very much safer than quads, especially when carrying large amounts of feed in the winter. It’s through the generosity of our supporters; trusts and local businesses that we have been able to provide such an important facility for those that society would have otherwise left behind. We are happy to welcome any visitors, local businesses or organisations to come and see what we do, and to see how the love we share is impacting those we are so privileged to care for.” he concluded.