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For a year or so now, since I felt obliged to give up computer coaching because of my deteriorating mental abilities, I have been looking for some sort of other voluntary work to replace it. My growing interest in all things to do with gardening took me to a charity called Oak Tree Farm Rural Project, on the Hilderstone road out of Sandon.
We visited the site several times before I had a chat with the site manager and we agreed that I should do a few hours on a Saturday for a while, before making the arrangement more formal. My first job was to tame an unruly grape vine that I enjoyed and the second week I cleared a small area in their neglected orchard and planted a few Hazel trees. With my keen interest in fruit trees and the discovery of a large fruit bed, I think there will be a lot to keep me occupied on the site for a long time to come.

The site itself is set on some 15 acres of the Harrowby Estate at Sandon and is open 6 days a week (not Sundays) from 10-3pm to the public. The aims of Oak Tree Farm Rural Project are to give youngsters with learning disabilities experience of various rural crafts and working environments. However, the site is open to the general public as well to help the youngsters with some of the other social aspects of working in a retail type environment. 

Originally it was a farmyard setting, so there are different types of animals including various breeds of chickens, goats, rabbits, piglets, calves and also full grown cows with horns in a separate field. However, the attractions of the site do not stop there as there are also lots of Green Houses to explore where plants are not only grown to give the youngsters experience, but also to sell to the public. It is NOT a Garden Centre, but has more the appearance of an old fashioned plant nursery from days gone bye. Some vegetables and cut flowers are grown and are also occasionally available for people to buy. On the site there is a really good, clean, modern, purpose built café as well that is staffed in part by some of the very polite youngsters who help with serving and clearing the tables etc, although there are other staff to deal with money and food preparation. Food is prepared on the premises and often includes some very nice and unusual cakes made from different recipes to the normal. Another interest is a pottery shop that has been built in the complex of farm buildings to sell pottery made in their fully equipped pottery studio. The shop doubles up by also selling various products made from wood such as tubs and bird tables that were made in the carpentry workshop.

Oak Tree Farm Rural Project is a registered charity, but raises some of its funds through this semi-commercial site as well as the more directly commercial, “Acorn Gardening Services,” who will undertake all sorts of gardening jobs much like any other garden maintenance company.

As with all modern organisations the “Project,” has its own dedicated website that not only gives a lot of information about the set up and how to find it, but also features many entertaining pictures of various activities and events including their, “Open Days,” that are a little bit like a village fete and a lot of fun.

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