Skills unit marks 30 years with visit from the Duchess

The Duchess of Northumberland helped to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hepscott Horticultural Skills Unit and she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Daniel Fawcus and Michael Fawcett. Picture by Jane Coltman.
The Duchess of Northumberland helped to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hepscott Horticultural Skills Unit and she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Daniel Fawcus and Michael Fawcett. Picture by Jane Coltman.

A familiar face joined the milestone celebrations for a service that provides essential training and work experience to people with learning disabilities.

More than 170 guests attended the Hepscott Horticultural Skills Unit’s 30th anniversary event, including past users, and the Duchess of Northumberland marked the occasion by officially opening a new shop.

Around 200 people have used the facility since it opened in 1985, with the service benefiting from a significant investment by Northumberland County Council in 2011. It helped to refurbish the main building and improve disabled access throughout.

The unit provides people with all levels of learning disabilities the opportunity to work as part of a team to plant, grow and harvest crops, while also selling to and engaging with the public.

Money raised from the initiative is reinvested back into the service, which is managed on behalf of the county council by Northumbria Healthcare Trust – with 43 people using it on a weekly basis.

The opening of a garden cafe at the site in 2012 brought more custom and allowed the unit to sell more produce.

Unit manager Clive Moon welcomed guests at the event and thanked the Duchess, who has helped it to celebrate two previous anniversaries, for coming along to officially open the new shop.

He added: “The service has evolved over the past 30 years, from an idea to provide vulnerable adults with an outdoor environment to learn a variety of skills to the successful enterprise it is today.

“I have seen many people use the service over the years and they develop a strong sense of purpose and identity while acquiring vital skills, which is very rewarding for all involved.

“The self-confidence that is gained by all users creates a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere to everyone who visits.”

The skills unit employs five care staff and it is looking to recruit a horticulturalist to develop the plant sales business.

It is part of the council’s day care provision for adults with learning disabilities – there are other similar centres in Berwick, Alnwick, Blyth, Bedlington and Hexham – it has developed trading links with a number of local businesses and a range of products made by its users are on sale at tourist locations throughout Northumberland.

Coun Susan Dungworth, cabinet member for adult care and public health at the county council, said: “The Horticultural Skills Unit at Hepscott has a long and successful history and as a council we have always supported it.

“We’re always looking for examples of best practice and the unit is a shining example for when we are looking to develop other similar social enterprises.”