Students are always hard at work out at our partner unit Thistles Market Garden in Sutterton. In addition to tending the plants they also brush up on their numeracy and literacy skills once a week on a course with our tutor Don Jenkins.
The organisation is managed by Liz and Sue who have shown admirable determination and commitment to steadily build up the site from a piece of overgrown land. They describe Thistles as a horticultural day service for adults with learning disabilities. Service users will learn a variety of skills including growing from seed, potting on, weeding, producing hanging baskets and lawn maintenance. In addition, service users benefit from increased happiness, life skills, friendship and a sense of belonging to a team.
Thanks to the resourcefulness of these two ladies the site now has new paths, classroom space, an office, a kitchen and a log cabin as well as multiple sheds …most impressive!
I was shown around the site by two students, Andrew and Kate. The students showed me their favourite plants (strawberries, cabbage,tomatoes, and sweetcorn to name a few! ) and explained how they care for the tender plants in the polytunnels as well as showing the impressive raised bed area packed full of flowers and scented herbs.
It seems the students really enjoy the process of plant and vegetable cultivation as well as producing items to sell for funds for ongoing projects. There are big plans ahead for an improved kitchen area, so produce can be cooked on the site.
The students have also created a small orchard with a wealth of different apple varieties which Andrew described as being hard work but worth it!
Don’s class begins on a Tuesday afternoon after lunch. Students begin the session with a matching pictures quiz often themed around a topic. The week before my visit it had been a sports theme however this week the topic was ladies accessories. The session progresses with maths, writing and reading tasks. Each task is tailored to the individual so that they can learn at their own pace.
Students have their achievements recorded and praised by Don and the students said they feel happy with their progress. One student explained how learning to count in multiples of two had helped her learn how to check and budget her money independently and this made her feel more confident. She now shares the skills she has learned from the course with her housemates. Another student can now recognise and read road signs as a result of the course which he was unable to do before.
Students clearly work very hard to make progress and achieve good results and the Thistles staff and tutor Don justifiably feel extremely proud of them.
In fact..(no blushing Don! ) Don himself was recently inspected and rated as an outstanding tutor and the students and WEA feel this praise was richly deserved!
As the session drew to a close there was time for a lesson recap and then a quick recall quiz (personally I struggled to keep up…but it was quite hot and I was flagging by then!) then it was time for home.
Thistles is a wonderful, colourful, busy and positive place. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon with the friendly people there and I hope to visit again soon.