We first started the training project for people with learning disabilities in a field adjoining Furzey Gardens in 1986.

There were some very dedicated people within the Minstead Lodge community and I felt quite at home, because of my previous experience of living in a religious community.

I think so much of what’s happened, including the whole of the training project was organic growth. I think I didn’t have a particular plan. We were offered a field, a shed and a minibus and it was basically a day service. I estimated that a maximum of ten people would be able to use that service and after I’d reached the number of five service users, would need an extra member of staff.

So the growth just happened naturally and the next thing that happened was that in 1989, Tim (Selwood) said, “you know it’s going well, and we’d taken our service users on a self catering holiday to Cornwall and it made me realise just how much more they needed to learn about self care, care of house and home, not just about horticulture and work skills. Tim said, “well, you know, there’s some space in Minstead Lodge, have you thought about going residential?” And so that was the next stage.

It just grew on from that. Gradually the numbers of people living-in grew as well and as we saw people progressing in their skills to look after themselves, we started to think about moving people into the community. I think we started moving people into the community before the word ‘supported living’ had actually come about. I think it just seemed a natural progression.

One of the things I learnt through doing that is that it’s not the difference between where someone started and where they ended up, or where they were, the journey of progression, the distance travelled, it was more about how they got there.

And that it didn’t matter if a person had only travelled what looked like a short distance, because every person’s ability level is different, therefore someone might have only travelled in the eyes of the world a very short distance, but for them that was a mammoth gain. And it teaches you have to, well it taught me certainly, how to value what people can achieve and how what you aim for has to be realistic, that you can’t say, “I want this person to get there,” you need to say, “well the next step is going to be there, and then the next step is going to be there.”

And I’ve found that that has made the most impression on my life, that has made the work particularly pleasing. Seeing people come out of themselves, like one young man who was an elective mute and seeing him gain confidence and gradually start talking more and more was just marvellous, he became more confident. He lives in supported living, he’s got a regular girlfriend and he’s got a job that he goes to, and that to me is marvellous.

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