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A Social Enterprise providing community based support for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism in the South West

Heathfield Farm Project

Heathfield Farm

Heathfield Farm is a partnership of five organisations – Broadclyst Community Farm Ltd (a community benefit society), Devon Link-Up (a registered charity), The National Trust (a registered charity), St Sidwell’s Community Centre (a registered charity) and You First (a Community Interest Company) – who have come together to realise our shared goal.

This is to create a land-based learning centre on the outskirts of Exeter, Devon, where people with learning disabilities and/or autism can engage in meaningful activity and access support on a pathway into work with all the social, personal and economic benefits this brings. The centre will also provide benefit and services to the wider community.

This new facility is needed because too many people with a learning disability or autism remain unable to access the support and care they need to realise their ambitions. Only 8.6% of people in Devon with a learning disability were in paid employment in 2018 and people with learning disabilities have markedly poorer physical and mental health than their non-disabled peers in the county. New approaches are needed – and are developing – to tackle these problems by providing training and development tailored to the individual, but facilities and resources that can meet this need are thin on the ground. We have visited and researched other operations offering training for people with learning disabilities and/or autism in Devon, Somerset and further afield and we have found a highly variable picture, with too many people placed in limiting situations and unable to grow. We have also found some beacons of good practice and we have developed positive partnerships with these.

Making It Real

Our aim is to provide meaningful and purposeful day activities that are ambitious for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, that lead to people developing genuine community connections, growing in self-esteem, self-belief and confidence, and moving into volunteering or paid employment, thus becoming less reliant on support services. We are supporting disadvantaged people to become empowered and autonomous and to achieve things in their own way, in their own time and on their own terms.

We aim to show that by challenging social and cultural attitudes, and by placing less expectations on people with intellectual disabilities to "be like us" or "work as we do", then the door opens for a whole new group of people to find meaningful engagement and employment. We will be a place that demonstrates an innovative and practical way of enabling people with learning disabilities and/or autism to truly connect with their local community. The Heathfield Farm Project will deliver this core work through a range of trading enterprises that will also offer valuable services to the local community.

The farm is on land at Broadclyst which is owned by the National Trust, who are strongly supportive of our project and will offer a secure long-term lease to help realise our plans. Its location, on a busy bus route, close to railway stations and in an area of rapid population growth, is ideal. Within a 15-mile radius are the city of Exeter, the new town of Cranbrook, the towns of Cullompton, Honiton, Exmouth, Ottery St Mary and Sidmouth and the many villages and hamlets between, with a current population of circa. 220,000 people, set to grow to 250,000 in the next 10 years. 


Our vision is of a cluster of inter-connected and mutually supportive enterprises operating at the farm, all related to the land, food and farming. These will be independent businesses and will be owned and operated by members of our existing consortium. Our plan is that The Heathfield Farm Project will be managed by a new Heathfield Farm Trust, which will sub-let to individual enterprises and coordinate activities. The Trust will employ a small core team to manage the farm, as well as course trainers and a team of volunteers. Each of the enterprises will independently employ its own staff. Once established we expect there to be around 60 people on site each day, plus passing visitors and other groups. The opportunities on offer will look like this:

The Farm will eventually be open to the public 7 days a week and the combination of activities on offer will attract customers from a wide area. This customer base will underpin each of the enterprises, allowing them to innovate and develop new products to meet and grow demand. Throughout will run the golden thread of providing services and spaces where people of all abilities can work and enjoy life together.

Training Opportunities 

For all enterprises at the Farm, providing training opportunities for people with learning disabilities and/or autism will be paramount. Our intention is that people will develop knowledge and skills at Heathfield  Farm that enables them to move on into employment or other relevant activity, meaning they can grow and live a more fulfilled life. The courses, covering skills such as horticulture, catering and fabrication, will offer trainees meaningful, practical tasks as they develop their skills, leading to a certificate that demonstrates their abilities to future employers.

We are now developing our plans in greater detail, piloting some of the learning programmes we want to deliver, designing a new building that will be the hub of the operation, launching a broad service user, community and stakeholder consultation process, establishing a new charity to lead the project, developing a fundraising strategy and raising the capital and revenue funds for the next stage. This Development Phase has been extended because of the Covid-19 crisis but we aim to complete it by Spring 2021.

In our Delivery Phase, commencing Autumn 2021 and subject to a successful further round of fundraising, we will initially carry out the main capital investment to prepare the farm and then launch the new enterprise in May 2022. The capital cost of this will be £365,000 and the new charity will need revenue support during its first three years of operation totaling £132,000.



Our Vision

Our vision is:

to create a land-based centre where people with learning disabilities and/or autism can engage in meaningful activity that not only provides benefit and services to the wider community but also supports a pathway into work with all the social, personal and economic benefits this brings.

Our key aims are:

• To be user-led; ie co-designed with and substantially led and delivered by the people whose needs our project is designed to meet.
• To provide training and employment opportunities primarily, but not exclusively, for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, filling a significant gap in current provision.
• To be open to the public, to encourage involvement by all members of the community and to promote a fully integrated model of society.
• To improve community health by providing opportunities for accessible healthy activities and growing food.
• To host a diverse network of interlinked enterprises trading under the umbrella of the farm, all connected to food, farming, horticulture, the countryside and people’s enjoyment of it and all employing people with learning disabilities and/or autism.
• To fund ourselves primarily through earned income rather than through grants.
• To provide a landscape rich in wildlife.

All too often people with learning disabilities and/or autism face discrimination or a lack of understanding as they seek to build and grow their lives. They tend to be treated as people “with needs” who are provided with a limited and preconceived range of support, rather than as people with the potential to develop a full life and the ability to take on worthwhile work.

This is a long-standing issue, but it is being exacerbated by public sector funding cuts that risk isolating people with learning disabilities and/or autism yet further as person-centred support services come under pressure. Community-based services are frequently cited as the solution but are often thin on the ground and fail to meet people’s aspirations.

We aim to create a place that delivers an integrated social and economic model, where people with learning disabilities and/or autism play active and valued roles in delivering services to the community, achieve their personal goals, gain new skills and can ultimately progress into meaningful work with other employers. The farm will be sustained primarily through its trading enterprises and will attract customers from far and wide to enjoy the services it provides. As a demonstration project it will proactively drive changes in public and business attitudes towards people with learning disabilities and/or autism.


Contact Us

The Heathfield Farm Project is being led by the consortiums Project Manager, Karen Adamson and you can email Karen by clicking here. Alternatively you can contact Jo Morgan, CEO of Devon Link-Up by clicking here.

Calum Brown

Calum, one of the people we support, took all these photos and we think they're brilliant! 




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