Minsteracres newest venture got off the ground in May, bringing together two of the charity’s key aims of conserving our environment and working with the disadvantaged.

Together with the Prince’s Trust in Consett, our new education project, Sequoia Training, is offering a four week intensive programme of practical horticultural training to a group of 12 unemployed 16 – 25 year olds.

The young people are part of a 12 week Prince’s Trust Team programme which gives them an opportunity to work together, share experiences and gain skills. Three out of every four on a Team programme go on to work or college placements within three months of completing the course.

“This is our 100th Team, an achievement which will be celebrated by the Prince’s Trust this year. With an average of 15 young people on each Team, we have worked with and supported at least 1500 young people aged 16-25 since inception of Team delivery,” says Sara-Jane Heslop, delivery partner for Consett & District YMCA.

“We go above and beyond the mark to ensure that we offer every possible opportunity of positive progression after the course.”

Managing the walled garden project is Minsteracres’ environmental consultant Andrew Pennington. Minsteracres has taken back management of the estate’s walled garden following the departure of previous tenants Daybreak at Christmas.

Team poly tunnel square

Andrew, in turn, has taken on the task of gradually bringing the garden back into production of fruit and vegetables to supply the retreat centre’s kitchen.

“With the conservation volunteers we’ve taken out the old and diseased trees in the former orchard, removed trees in the main garden, taken out a willow hedge from around the poly tunnels and prepared the beds for planting,” explains Andrew.

“The students will help us to refurbish the old greenhouse and install an irrigation system into the greenhouse and poly tunnels ready for planting.

“We’ll be growing potatoes, leeks, sprouts, cabbage and onions in the beds, and lettuce, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes in the greenhouse and poly tunnels, all of which we hope to have up and running in June,” says Andrew.

“The young people in this group haven’t done anything like this before,” he says. “I hope that we’ll be taking a new group again in September and aim in the long run to have three or four groups a year.”

The programme is intensive, so while Andrew is busy with the students, the estate work will be carried by our conservation volunteers led by Malcolm Railton, the first of the team to arrive back in June 2014.

Team more digging square

The team contributes more than simply hard labour, “Working with the Prince’s Trust at Minsteracres is a great opportunity for us in the conservation team to pass on some of our accumulated knowledge and skills to the younger generation who are just starting out in their working lives,” says Andrew. “They worked together the other day and got on really well.

“For me personally, this brings back memories of my own youth and how lucky I was to find work with a farming family who helped, encouraged and nurtured me through my first two years of employment. Without them I would never have got my lucky break. With the Prince’s Trust I can return that favour and help others as was helped.”

Sara-Jane adds, “I am extremely happy to be working in partnership with Minsteracres, being able to offer our students an additional qualification and experience to include on their CV, enhancing their future prospects.

“Working with Andy has been so inspiring for our Team, all of the students have enjoyed getting their hands dirty and seeing the results of their hard work makes it so worthwhile.”