Week 21 - Apuldram Centre
Originally founded in 1989 by parents who wanted their children, with learning disabilities, to have a meaningful life, the Apuldram Centre is now still going strong 25 years later.
Pulling up the small drive of the Apuldram centre with its quaint little farm shop, selling everything from potted plants to freshly made soda bread, you would naturally assume that it was a little farm nestled into the Chichester countryside. But you couldn't be further from the truth. The Apuldram centre is in fact a rural skills site for individuals with learning disabilities.
As soon as I arrived I was greeted with a wealth of smiles, handshakes and 'Hi''s
'Hi my name is Andy, who are you?'
My first experience, up close and personal, of the Apuldram centre was just perfect. And I hadn't even put my feet on the ground! It's this type of inclusive and welcoming atmosphere that I thrive on; in all honesty is the reason why I love doing this job and it was in that moment, within those few seconds of arriving on site, I knew this was going to be a memorable week.
I soaked in the atmosphere for a few moments, breathing in deeply and experiencing the holistic nature of the centre before heading over to the office, clearly sign-posted to my left.
I did think, as I whisked through the office doors that why is it that only centre's like this are set up for people with learning disabilities. Now, before you think I am going on a rant; I'm not. But, don't get me wrong, I am all for these amazing places being set up to help cater for adults with learning difficulties but shouldn't we all be able to relax and enjoy this type of living? I say yes to that. A big yes.
And then my thoughts were answered. I was introduced to Mike and Sarah, the interim matriarchs of the Apuldram Centre whilst a new manager is found to steer the ship. I was told that my week would be spent across their many activities, helping and enjoying all they have to offer here at the site. I would also be tasked with driving outside engagement and traffic through to the site.
You see, they have a wonderful farm shop, which is stocked with products made and grown on site, by the guys with learning disabilities. Isn't that fab?
My first stop and taste of this wonder was in the kitchen on Monday morning. Making cakes and pastries to sell at lunch to the passing trade; Andy showed me the ropes. Now Andy has Down Syndrome, and loves to cook. So by having a fully functional commercial kitchen on site, his dreams can come true. This is what the Apuldram Centre do, they give these guys the facilities they need to show off their skills. Lasting skills that they can take home and apply to their everyday lives and of course cooking is one of them.
Andy and I got stuck straight in and after donning a very fetching apron we got into a right mess making a gluten free orange cake. I had great fun, and so did Andy by the look on his face when we got the hot steaming cake out of the oven ready to serve to waiting customers in the shop. Being in this environment, you can really see how much of an impact it makes. It's these everyday skills that the majority of us take for granted, we just learn as we grow up. But when you have a learning disability, these skills don't come easy.
What I also think is fantastic and at the heart of the Apuldram centre is their farm shop. Originally set up as an outlet for all the master baking coming out of the kitchen, it has now become a beacon for the local community to come and enjoy freshly made cakes with a drop of tea. It ticks so many boxes and makes my inner retailer smile from ear to ear. Over the years it has developed its own quirky style and now houses freshly made produce from the garden as well as all the cakes and savouries made in the kitchen, all available for the passing general public to buy. All of this money goes directly into supporting the charity; a fantastic revenue stream that most charities this size don't have the luxury of.
I played shop-keeper for the day on Tuesday, sprinkling my little touch on the shop and doing a little product merchandising to make it even more fabulous. All of the service users pop in and out and can always be found out the front, chatting up an unsuspecting customer into buying more pot plants or herbs, or even being told about the wood work barn just down the path. We noticed that the back entrance to the Apuldram Centre was overgrown and un-kept. It is a very popular cycle route and dog walking path so with a lick of paint and some hard work, we turned it into a welcoming entrance; even with free dog water and biscuits! Whoever said giving something away for free is absurd is wrong! We had hoards of doggy walkers through the gate and into the shop!
I must admit I do love going to the smaller charities. I feel I make much more of an impact. Not saying that I don't in the big ones, but with the smaller ones they are much more resource poor. So I spent my Wednesday helping write fund applications, applying for the Google non profit grant, streamlining social media and writing a fundraising plan. All things that needed doing but nobody had the time to do. Fantastic, that's a huge tick for the charity to move forward with.
The rest of my week was a mixture of music sessions, planting & harvesting delicious crop for the shop and sitting having tea with the staff and service users in their wonderful sensory garden.
It's a little slice of heaven tucked away in the south coast. To be honest, I could see myself returning here in the future, enjoying their grounds bathing myself in the culture and environment. They are currently looking for a new site manager, a role I obviously can't apply for at the moment but I envy the lucky so and so who does.
I leave refreshed and invigorated ready for my 50-mile cycle ride next week with help for Heroes. Wish me luck!