Two awards for an inspirational farm scheme

A £2.3M scheme for a derelict farm, designed to transform the lives of young people with disabilities in West Sussex, has won two awards.

In May 2009, work was completed at the former derelict buildings at East Clayton Farm, on the Storrington road, outside Washington.

The Lorica Trust secured a 99-year lease from the National Trust for the 120-acre derelict farm in 2005, after the farm had not been in active production for a number of years. It set about the long haul of creating eight shared ownership units in the former farmyard building, built around a courtyard scheme.

In addition, the trust has provided a Rural Apprenticeship programme to empower the long-term unemployed with skills and East Clayton Farm became one of the first shared ownership housing schemes for young people with profound and multiple disabilities in the country.

It was a long, but exciting challenge to bring the project to completion, driven on by the vision of Stephen Sharpe and Robin Hobson.

The registered charity has worked in Sussex and the surrounding area for more than 20 years supporting many vulnerable and marginalised members of society. Working in partnership with West Sussex Social Services, the Lorica Trust received planning permission for the shared homes along with an activity centre for young adults with profound learning.

“We are passionate that people with learning disabilities are put in control of their own lives,” said Sandie Foster of the Lorica Trust.

“With the East Clayton Farm development, the Lorica Trust is committed to ensuring that young people with profound learning disabilities have the same opportunities that everyone has to live their lives to the full through adult life in a place where they are wanted, cared for and loved.”

The young people part-own their flats through a shared ownership scheme model, between Lorica, as the developer and landlord, and the disabled customers. The latter are purchasing their share of the property through an interest only mortgage, funded by their Income Support Mortgage Interest Benefits.

Lorica has established MiLife UK, one of the Government’s new Community Interest Companies, to provide the care and support to the customers living at the scheme, as well as elsewhere in the community. It is funded through contracts with Social Services or directly with the customers, and MiLife provides a staff team 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to enable people not only to live their lives to the full, but also to take advantage of the farm’s 125 acres.

The eight one-bedroom flats are in the former farmhouse outbuildings. These are linked to the ground floor of the farmhouse through a new glass covered walkway. There is a range of shared accommodation, including a training kitchen, sensory room, communal lounge and dining area for events and parties, as well as facilities for ongoing education and activities. The adjoining farmhouse has been converted into communal facilities for families downstairs, with the upstairs housing recipients of a rural apprenticeship scheme.

The Lorica Trust undertook the scheme in partnership with Horsham District Council and Lee Evans LLP. The occupants are young adults with profound disabilities. Living on a 120 acre farm has opened up a wide range of possibilities for enhancing the quality of life of those living in the units. The farm also has great potential for providing respite care and day care facilities.

At the time, the scheme was criticised by some local residents who felt that the scheme had lost the flavour of the original farm buildings.

But now two Royal Town Planning Institute awards have been given to Horsham District Council for the partnership work on what was described as ‘an innovative development’.

The award recognised the successful partnership work between the council, the Trust and Lee Evans LLP, which all shared in the honour.

The design team and Horsham District Council were given specific praise for the determination and enthusiasm demonstrated in the design and management approaches. The council was also praised for its ‘thinking outside the box’ in finding a successful planning solution for such a project in a rural location.

All three partners have now been nominated for a National Town Planning Award at a national ceremony tomorrow, Thursday.

Horsham councillor Peter Rowlinson said: “I am delighted the council has achieved recognition for the way planners have worked with the developers and the Lorica Trust in turning around what was a disused building into such a great facility for young people with disabilities.

“It just goes to show what can be achieved through a constructive partnership approach with the developers.”