For the past six months Minsteracres has played host to a special group of gardeners. Tynedale Horticultural Service (THS) was set up by Northumberland County Council 24 years ago to provide training and work experience in horticulture for adults with learning disabilities.
Last summer the team had to leave their long-term home at Ridley Hall near Haydon Bridge when it was sold and were on the lookout for a new base. Minsteracres was among the places they short listed and it very soon became apparent that what we had to offer was a close fit for them, with space for growing seeds and propagating plants, a wider estate to practice existing skills and learn new ones and, importantly, a chance to meet and interact with staff, volunteers and visitors in this peaceful but busy spot.
“The opportunity to work with others in the walled garden, the Peace Garden and on the estate has proved to be a bonus”, says Karen Hemming, assistant manager of the service. “We used to work on our own, but the service users have discovered they love working with the other teams and have really enjoyed the welcome from everyone here.
The fact that THS has settled so well is due in no small part to the hard work that the staff team put into preparing their service users for the big step of leaving their former home.
“We planned lots of farewell events, and once we had identified Minsteracres as our next step we started to visit a day or two every week with a small group of service users. They settled really well, which made the transition much easier for the rest of the group.
“We said our final farewells to Ridley Hall and then watched everything being dismantled, so by the time we moved to Minsteracres everyone was ready to leave.” Tom, one of THS’s support workers agrees, “We worried about how people would cope with such a change, but I don’t think it could have been better!”
It was not long before some of the home team began to take advantage of THS’s presence. “Fr Mark (who else?!) was keen to get rid of the thistles in the parkland, so Colin and Kevin, who had both done a course on strimming, removed them for him. He was delighted!” says Tom.
A chance visit of Karen’s friend baroque violinist Davide Monti led to another new experience for THS. Davide played for the team in the ballroom at Minsteracres with traditional and improvised music. Everyone joined in, some dancing to the music. Among the audience was Lya Vollering who is developing a contemplative space in the walled garden.
“It all started with the violinist. I could see they loved what he had done and thought they might like to give this a go,” says Lya, suggesting that the team might like to develop and perform a Passion play at Minsteracres during the Easter retreat.
Up for a challenge, though not without trepidation, the team is now in rehearsal with Lya and will be performing in public on Good Friday. The Passion will take them on a physical journey around the grounds and into the church.
In the meantime, THS are waiting to see if the council will give them approval to make Minsteracres their permanent home. We certainly hope they will!