Imagine a world where no one was judged for being ‘different’ and everyone had equal opportunity to learn and grown. That’s exactly what one man and his wife are aiming for.
Having witnessed first-hand the decline of his father-in-law and inadequate level of care required to stimulate his needs, Geoff Stevens was desperate to revolutionise the care system.
With experience in both the creative and corporate world, Geoff began hatching plans on how he could help… then Pathways Care Farm was born! A haven to help vulnerable people.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Geoff spoke about the oasis of calm he now runs across acres of beautiful countryside in the coastal town of Lowestoft and why he believes the great outdoors can be so fruitful for those with special needs or mental health conditions.
Geoff said: “For a number of years, my wife and I helped look after my father-in-law who was a highly creative carpenter and builder but who was living with vascular dementia.
“He attended a day care unit, but the ‘care’ involved included a game of bingo and sitting around with 10 or 15 others on the same journey with only two or three ‘carers’; the chance for meaningful conversation or stimulating activity was limited to say the least.”
Sadly, after a few years of deteriorating health, he died, leaving Geoff and his wife wondering what more could be done for people in similar situations.
Simultaneously, Geoff was falling out of love with the corporate life and searching for opportunities away from the graphic design consultancy business he ran.
Geoff explained: “We had moved to Suffolk and I started to look around to see what was available for helping vulnerable people and came across the concept of ‘Care Farming’.
“The idea of working with animals and growing vegetables seemed a perfect solution and so much better than trying to serve ungrateful clients who didn’t understand the word ‘loyalty’.”
Through a chance meeting with the leader of Suffolk County Council, Geoff heard about a small farm near his home which was under tender for use as a care farm. He quickly put together a business plan for the land, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Geoff continued: “When the phone call came through to say we had been awarded the lease my wife said: ‘This will change everything!’ And she was right.”
But their hard work was just beginning as after acquiring the farm in October 2014, they spent 18 months clearing brambles, fixing roofs and making paths as the site had been derelict for 20 years.
By the spring of 2016, they were able to open the gates to real customers, who they call ‘farm workers’, and had two people in their first week.
As word got around about the power of Pathways Care Farm, soon the number of visitors grew, and they were supporting up to 11 people each day just before lockdown.
Yet Geoff’s work is not done yet, he still has dreams of reforming the care industry.
While he knows it’s a big ambition, he believes that having already established a caring community where people are loved and nurtured is a way to show others that it can be done.
At the farm, people are invited to join in guided activities, whether through physical work or problem solving, or they can sit and contemplate the natural habitat and various walkways.
The team also encourage companionship and participating in group work so that older people in particular can feel less lonely especially if they live alone and are disconnected from society.
Geoff said: “The farm is a place where people can express themselves, be who they want to be, and leave their diagnosis at the gate to do what they can without worrying about what they can’t. We aim to give people dignity.
“Sadly, society judges people who have any ‘difference’ or ‘difficulty’ or who are vulnerable. Most of the time we don’t know we are judging, but our attitudes and prejudices are deep-seated.”
He added: “People who have a learning difficulty or mental ill-health are not deficient, they are merely different; but aren’t we all different? If we were all the same life would be very boring, instead we need to learn to celebrate and embrace our differences.”
Geoff says he vows to live by his motto, ‘The strength of our society should be judged on how we treat the weakest not how we revere the celebrities’ – and ensure the farm is a community that people belong to not just a place that they visit.
Geoff concluded: “The care industry has been at the forefront of the news recently, quite rightly, many, many people are working hard and are incredibly caring but it’s not enough.
“We need a care revolution. We need to be always looking out for those around us, we need to walk the extra mile, we need to go beyond, ‘Are you okay?’ and hoping to get the answer ‘I’m fine’.
“We need to be a nation – or rather, a world – where we truly care for one another. Only then will there be no need for care farms as society itself will be one huge care farm.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
For more info, click here: Pathways Care Farm.