Our startups help communities and change lives. Serenity Farm Project is a care farm, harnessing the therapeutic power of animals to help people relax and learn new skills. They're our StartUp of the Week - let's find out more!

1. Explain your business in thirty seconds or less

My business will provide care farming services and horticulture activities for young adults with learning disabilities and marginalised or disadvantaged groups and individuals. Serenity Farm consists of a large barn and fields with a range of animals, including horses, pigs and goats. People can come and learn about looking after the animals, build on work skills, communication and confidence skills, encouraging people to manage their anxieties and behaviours. In addition the gardens and greenhouses will provide skills to grow and sell produce, and we are looking at hosting a monthly farmer's market. In the coming year we will be developing a large sensory garden for all to enjoy but with an emphasis on people with more complex and disabled needs, so they can enjoy the tranquility and maybe take one of the animals for a walk round.

2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?

Stoke on Trent, on the edge of Wetley Moor but only four miles from the city centre and close to some large housing estates. It is an excellent location because the nearest other care farms are not in Stoke on Trent, and the travel costs make it unaffordable for most families and Social Services to fund. Although in a peaceful country location, the farm is very close to the city centre and travel costs will be minimal.

3. How did you come up with the idea?

I have 16 years experience in education, the last 10 spent in offender learning and as a senior manager of a special college for people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs. Social workers and parents have been highlighting over and over again the lack of provision for young people post-school and college, particularly working with animals in an outside setting. I have always had a range of animals and understand the positive effect they have on people. I took this a stage further last year and completed a course on Equine-Facilitated Teaching, where I have learned to facilitate specific lessons to help people overcome barriers and learn communication skills using horses as the teachers. The results of this can be tremendous and life-changing. In my role at the college numerous people asked me why didn't I do something with my animals to help fill this niche - so here I am.

Serenity Farm Project

4. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?

Ideas and planning only. I had discussed a rent-to-buy amount on the barn and had a contract drawn up ready. I had priced up the essentials and put the word out about what I intended to do, and had received lots of positive feedback.

5. How have you used it to grow your business?

Oh crikey - where to start? We used it for essentials such as purchasing a compost toilet, connecting electricity to the barn and all the fixtures inside, and fixing the guttering on the barn as it kept flooding the building.

It allowed us to clear a dangerous sileage pitt and to level off the car park and entrance area, as well as to remove old dangerous barbed wire fencing, replacing it with post and rail. Other vital elements included new safe gates for pigs and goats (as advised by a Chamber of Commerce health and safety advisor), the purchase of a portacabin to be used as a warm room and classroom, and public liability insurance.

6. Who has helped your business grow?

Gayle Jessiman at Business Enterprise Support - she advised me about the Virgin loan and helped and supported me though the application process,

My mentors at the Chamber of Commerce are Pete Ball and John Thompson. Pete Ball has been full of enthusiasm  for the project and has provided me with good contacts, and John Thompson has also been enthusiastic and encouraging  about the project. He has provided me with suitable mentors in the relevant areas I have needed support with.

7. Biggest achievement so far?

Aquiring the barn! Securing the Virgin loan has been integral in being able to grow the project quickly. We are also in partnership working with the Prince's Trust - they are currently doing a two-week volunteering project with me and have previously done two one-day projects with different groups. This has provided fantastic help to me and the project and has provided them with real work experience, which has helped them to develop as a team and grow their skills. We intend to keep this relationship  going as the project grows.

8. What's next for your business?

Now the next thing is service users starting to attend, and some turnover. I have a potential client visiting today, another one on 18th Feb and six visitors from the Local Authority next week. I'm also planning on getting more involved with social media and have just been granted a bursary for £500 to get a website built.


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