Episode 01 of the Journey Skills Podcast. This week we talk to Hester the founder of the Ark Project. Based in the South of England it helps young people with additional needs develop practical work skills.
[00.45] – All about Hester and her previous life as an occupational therapist before she decided to go in a different direction resulting in The Ark
[1.20] – How young people come to the project through Shared Lives.
[1.40] – How the project helps young people find their own sense of purpose
[2.00] – How the small holding part of the project works and what skills its teaches
[3.20] – The importance of being creative and learning skills in a real environment
[4.20] – Shared Lives – What it’s all about and the process of becoming a registered provider
[6.45] – The practical skills being learnt and the importance of developing confidence through doing
[7.45] – “Know the Dough”
[8.00] – Developing transferable skills which can be used to live an independent life and giving a real sense of purpose and place in their own communities
[12:00] – Looking to the future and believing in the potential of people to run their own businesses
[13.00] – The future of The Ark
[14.15] – The importance of treating everyone as an individual and allowing them to work at their own pace on the things that really interest them.
Learn through doing, doing and doing
Embrace your creativity
DEBRA: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Journey Skills podcast. This week we’re talking Hester who runs the Ark Project which is a project to help young people with additional needs develop their independence skills and as part of that there’s the Ark Bakery and much more as well but we’ll let Hester explain all that to you. Hester, welcome to Journey Skills.
DEBRA: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now with the Ark Project?
HESTER: My name is Hester and I’ve been occupational therapist for years and I’ve worked in all sorts of areas but keep coming back to the kind of work skills area and so I made last year the big decision to jump off hand therapy which is where I was before and look at setting up a small Ark Project and with a bakery angle and a small holding angle.
DEBRA: So what does that involve? What do you do in the bakery? How do you help young people with additional needs?
HESTER: Well, they’re referred to me through Shared Lives which I can tell you a bit about later. And they come to work in the bakery to learn baking skills, maybe as a work opportunity to learn perhaps they need to just learn how to prepare their own food but learn about it in a kind of working environment; gain a sense of purpose, self-worth, feel they’re part of a bigger organization.
DEBRA: And a small holding, how does that fit in?
HESTER: Well that’s what we’ve had for a long time and I just realized it’s such a brilliant opportunity to share. So we’ve got sheep, turkeys, chickens and rabbits and we breed those. It just gives another angle. I also have a small holti-cultural elements of the hive; I do a couple of gardens and I’ve always loved holti-culture much in holti-culture therapy in the past. So now had a brilliant work opportunity and it’s good to have an outside angle too, so yes, we offer the opportunity to work with the animals and grow vegetables, fruit, work in a poly tunnel, there are all sorts of things, really.
DEBRA: So the people that you’re working with now, what do they do for example with the baking, how do they fit in to your bakery? What are the kind of things do they do?
HESTER: Okay. What do they do? Well, come in the morning, I’ve often got the baking, they got the bread just started so I come about 9:30 but if they want to come right from the beginning then they can come for about 8:00 o’clock, that’s great! They learn about the concept of yeast and using yeast to make bread grow. They learn the basics of a number of different breads, depending on what day they come because we got breads we make on different days. They make the bread, they take it to the places that we’re selling it; the local pub takes bread rolls every other day or we sell it to local people in the village or the farm shop. They take it there and they love that bits. The couple of people that we’ve worked with really enjoy that part.
I’m coming up ideas that we can put in into the bakery as well. So yesterday, we were looking at making some sweet bakery goods because we’re looking at maybe setting up a little tiny shoplet and some of the people who attend are part of the bakery right from the beginning. Their ideas, their thoughts are all part of get tied in to what we’re doing. So, yes, we’ve made some iced sponge yesterday, some chelsea buns are something we’re something in the next couple of weeks.
DEBRA: Okay. And you’re selling to local people?
HESTER: Local people, yep. Pub, farm shop and local people here and I’ve been asked to consider setting up a little shop so we just fix on literal to planning of week so if it’s possible to do that.
DEBRA: So setting up shop selling…
HESTER: Just selling our bread, maybe the fruits and vegetable and we sell in the door in any case, that would just be once a week but again that’s an opportunity to learn money skills and so one of the girls is quite keen to do that. It’s a way of learning it in a non-threatening sort of way but a very functional, real way.
DEBRA: Rather than just theory.
HESTER: Yes, yes.
DEBRA: You mentioned before about Shared Lives, can you tell me what that involves? What that means to you?
HESTER: Yes, well Shared Lives is a great organization for what I’ve learned so far. I think they’ve been running for about 20 old years and initially, their main angle was looking at young people (or any age) people with additional needs having an opportunity to move into a normal every day house situation with the family rather than living in a any kind of residential or kind of sort paid people to look after them kind of setup. Shared Lives now moved into looking at day opportunities as well and work-related opportunities. So that’s how I got into it. Yes, so their role is to help young people, or any age people, get into living as good of life with any of us really with the support of everyday people. They can live in a family with people who’ve had some additional training or you can come to work or come to share the day with people with some additional training. They don’t have to be an occupational therapist like me but I hope that helps to gain skills on your journey of independence into the life you want to lead.
DEBRA: What kind of training have you had?
HESTER: Well I guess my occupational therapy training was taken on board already so I didn’t have to do anything else along those lines. I had to go to panel which means that an assessment was carried out looking at my background, my family’s background on whether we’d be appropriate nor the the usual DBS (I think that’s the right terminology) checks to make sure that we were safe, which I think is really good because if I was attending a project, I certainly want to make sure that the family that I was working or living or staying with, were all safe.
So, yes, I’d have that done. I have to do keep up with all sorts of other courses which are quite similar to when I was working in the health service like health and safety, understanding medication. I’ve got additional courses because of the bakery side so some of the hygiene elements of it. Understanding that the different mental capacity acts and we have to do this every year so that we kept up to date and making sure that we’re doing the best the people we’re working or living with.
DEBRA: Okay. The people that you said you have some people working for you now, what kind of independent skills do you think they’ve learned?
HESTER: They’re learning to put together some simple meals that they can make at home. Confidence using an oven which perhaps it’s something that was a bit hot and scary and actually they’re using it all the time. Using implements like knives and getting confident using those especially if there’s other aspects like limited vision and those sorts of things. Feeling confident like for example when we deliver the bread to the local pub and into their kitchen, dressed in our baker’s uniform and we take it in. So i’ts feeling they’re part of an organization and they’re giving over the project, the product rather, that kind of gives the confidence, that element which is very important for independence. You got to feel good about yourself, you feel you’re worth something.
DEBRA: And is quite repetitive, what you’re doing with them?
HESTER: Yes, the good stuff about making bread is that there are some simple skills which you just have to do a number of times but you’ve got to understand the dough. We’ve got these funny phrases like Know the dough and you only get to know that if you do it regularly and you get to feel what it feels like when it’s starting to be workable and then ready to leave to prove.
DEBRA: Know the dough.
HESTER: Know the dough. It’s brilliant!
DEBRA: Is there any others?
HESTER: Yes, there is another one, it’ll come to mind in a minute. I can’t remember what it is.
DEBRA: And in terms of the small holding, what kind of skills do you teach them there, to sort of, I guess, transferable that they can use?
HESTER: Yes, I mean maybe that can be used in the holticultural size that could be worth it, for example, if somebody wants to work. Again possibly this would be within their benefit system so it might be just some extra more hours they work a week. They can work in a garden, they can do cut the grass for somebody so learn to use the lawn mower, they could learn basic reading skills, safety using pruning tools, those sorts of things. And with animals, we live in an area where there are a lot of farms, potentially they could do a little bit of extra work for some local farmers. So they’re learning about basic sheep management, looking after the fleet, we’ve had ramen recently so we’ve got lambs. There’s a lot of opportunity for learning lambing skills. And we actually got one of the young girls and myself, we’re going to have lambing session with the local farmer in a couple of months time. I mean in this growing vegetables, learning how to do that, perhaps I can then go to where they live and look up and helping them set up their own little vegetable plot and it’s from little seeds or little acorns grow big trees, grow big ideas, grow fruit and vegetable for their plate. It’s kind of independence in so many levels, really I hope.
DEBRA: You mention as well before about this sort of idea of brainstorming with them for the business. Is that what you want to do more of?
HESTER: Yes. Because it just happens when you’re working, you’re doing any kind of activity, you probably also find this happens and when you’re doing something other ideas just pop up, so yes, that happens all the time. I’m always in toward then “That’s a good idea such as a good will put that in and will that come that we look at next week” It’s like any kind of working setup where if you’re being creative with your hands your mind becomes creative and then if your minds creatively coming up with new ideas and you try them out the next week, for example, has the confidence of realizing “Oh that work. So that didn’t work. So what can I do next week to make it work better.”
DEBRA: Do you think then that actually what you’re doing is much as teaching them skills, is freeing them, make them more confident?
HESTER: Yes, make the people who you are tending feel of a bit of they’re valued members of our community, something one of the chaps said yesterday. I was asking him what he liked about, what he’d been learning, he’s been attending for three weeks. And he said a number of things; one that jumped into my mind and sort of really had resonance was that he said, “I love taking the bread over to the pub because it makes me feel like I’m a real baker” and I said, “You are. You’re here, making bread and you’re selling it and it’s a really good product and people want to buy it. You are a baker.” I think both of us felt like “Hoh! Yeah, that’s really good, we are!”
DEBRA: So it’s sense of purpose?
HESTER: Purpose, position as well, position in the community. There’s a place for the people of attending and it’s not necessarily going to be here this project forever but if you’ve had a taste of purpose and place, you know what you’re looking for somewhere else and hopefully I’d have the opportunity to help people make some steps from here into other situations and maybe that’s from of my older tea skills come into action again.
DEBRA: So you’d like them to sort of go back to their own homes, I guess, or independent living and then you using skills?
HESTER: Yes. Some people, it might be that they’re taking it and it just means that they can do the life they want to within their own home environment more successfully. For others, it might be that actually are really enjoy being able to feelt that ‘I was in a working situation’ and what else is there? Could it be that if they’re enjoying gardening, or I’m always being asked if I can do some extra gardening for people and I’ve said to the people I’m working with. Well it might well be that we’ll have people working with me perhaps some of those might make a step on and then they’re working once o twice a week, maybe more than that. Doing that garden, making it beautiful. And their place and purpose in the community is again set.
DEBRA: So you’re almost said hopefully setting people up for selling up their own small, I guess, local micro business?
HESTER: I hope so. In fact, one of the girls tha’s working with us, she’s setting up her own flock of sheep and I am, too and it’s a flock of sheep that will be sort of rarer breed, maybe we’ll take them to shows but we’re looking at to growing them to sell them as meat and sell them to local pubs and other restaurants. And we can learn those skills together and possibly she can develop that (I’m hoping) as her little business. So yes, very real, very real working opportunity, I think.
DEBRA: And in terms of the guys that you have, how did they get here? Are they developing those skills, independent skills travel or…?
HESTER: Yes, one the chaps yesterday, he got the bus from here yesterday into town. So yes, I’m really lucky I’ve got the bus, we’ve got the bus stop right outside. It’s not the most frequent running bus but nevertheless, it’s a bus.
DEBRA: So how do you think your project will grow then? What was your vision for the future?
HESTER: Well, my vision is kind of it’s almost like it started off a little cloudy and it is becoming clearer as I go. It’s really led by the individuals that come here. I think seeing what their needs are and perhaps how best to meet those, guides the project and I think that’s probably the way to go because I don’t want to make people run my path. I want to help them find and run their own paths.
DEBRA: So you’re not sure where it will end up because you’re not sure who wil come in?
HESTER: Maybe the bakery, the bakery has the opportunity to develop further and possibly promises. There’s a possibility at doing some community grazing with the sheep and having them in different places. In fact I’m going to meeting about that next week. And that will be another regular bit that we’ll need to go and check the sheep wherever they are and developing that. It might be it stays small and becomes really, really smart and easy to run or it might be that actually we leave one aspect and follow just one. I don’t know. It’s quite exciting, really.
DEBRA: So what’s the main thing that you think you’re helping, in terms of these guys, helping them become more independent? What do you think is the main focus of what you’re doing to help develop independence?
HESTER: I think it’s finding where they are and helping them identify the bits they need to work on but working on those bits slowly. I’m sure there’ll be areas which is not appropriate for me to work in, work on with them. But I could feed that back to whoever they’re living with or their peer manager, which is helpful.
DEBRA: Now, just wondering, in terms of independence, what do you think is the main thing that people get from it? That’s what I’m trying to get out really.
HESTER: Okay, yes. Maybe it’s the opportunity to learn the skills they want to, slowly and that the pace they need to. Obviously, the people who are referred here are only the people who are interested in what we offer. So, for somebody who’s interested in baking, if they want to do that so that they can at home or with their friends and family, that’s completely appropriate. If they’re thinking, “Actually, I love this so much. What could I do with this?” Could it be it might be that the bakery grows and they become a full-time member, maybe somebody that has a wage and but it might be they want to look up working somewhere else. Maybe we can find work opportunities or work placements somewhere.
DEBRA: So sounds like you’re opening their eyes to opportunities?
HESTER: Yes, oh that’s a much better word.
DEBRA: You’re talking here about what you can do so that they can see what they might want to do.
DEBRA: Because as you say, “I don’t know if I want to be a baker but if I came and I bake for a while, I might discover a passion for baking. Whilst at the moment, I would go well bake something but that much.” In the same way, if you took me to small hold then I might be like “Yeah, I’m not very keen” but once you’ve done it, you might be keen. So it might be interesting to see, as you say, where people go.
HESTER: Yes, and actually, it’s been quite useful because some people find that actually in order to sort of tune in to doing stuff in the bakery, they need to wander around outside. We’ve got one of the people, we gone let the sheep out and on to another field. And that gives of time to have a bit of a chat just around the corner. Just coming get ourselves and I’m thinking organized so that when we come back here, they’re ready to go and anything that might have happened during the week that might make it difficult to focus has already had chance to come out. And that, again, is the great opportunity that comes for when you’re not looking face to face with someone, you’re doing a task, the words and the thoughts come out more freely. Yes, it works well like that. So it might actually be that somebody comes to do baking but finds that they really love those stuff with the small holding.
DEBRA: Because they didn’t know because they’ve never had the opportunity. So it is about opportunities.
HESTER: It is. That’s such a good way of putting it.
DEBRA: Yes, to expand what you do with your life.
DEBRA: Thank you very much, Hester.
HESTER: Thank you, it’s been great!
DEBRA: So thank you to Hester. A pretty inspiring project there about working in a local community in a way that really helps young people develop the skills they can use to help them become so much more independent. And the key takeaway for me here is the value of the time to be creative, to work with your hands and really learn skills through repetition and as they say, “All journeys begin with single steps.”
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