I just got back from a visit to a place that seems to have been an essential part of Farnham for as long as anyone I talk to can remember.
Bell’s Piece is a Leonard Cheshire home that provides a range of residential and day care and support to a number of adults with learning difficulties.
They work on art projects (see example, right) and also on a horticultural market garden that produces a fantastic range of fruit and vegetables.
With Farnham, and all of Britain, about to need to produce much more local food, that was why we were there. We wanted to learn from this established, recognised, best practice example, just what it takes to grow fruit and veg on this kind of scale, on the edge of our town.
What we found instead was an organisation suffering from lack of funds, and caught between competing bureaucracies.
For most people with learning difficulties, the Government’s response is to offer them supervised group visits to the local supermarket (I’m sure you’ve seen them), trips swimming or riding, or drinking endless cups of tea in a “day care centre”.
How the Government thinks that activities like these are going to match its commitment to “improving the life chances of people with a learning disability” I do not know. But I do now know why Bell’s Piece has had so much outside interest from organisations wanting to copy and learn from them.
These people may have ‘learning difficulties’ but they are not stupid. In fact, in my experience of them today, they are friendly, happy, enthusiastic people. And they enjoy coming to a place like Bell’s Piece because they see it as “proper work”.
These are the activities and this is the kind of organisation that the government, and all of us, should be supporting, if we want to “improve life chances” and improve community.
It is a crying shame that Bell’s Piece is not better supported than it is. And it is to my shame that in the five years I have lived in and around Farnham, this is the first time I have visited.
I, for one, am going to do what I can to help them in future and I urge you to do the same.
They are a very human organisation in a technology-driven world. And they have skills and expertise that all too many of us are going to need to rely on in the very near future.