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Why does Tablehurst run a care home?

You may not be aware that there is a care home at Tablehurst, but ever since the farm became community-owned in the mid 1990s, it has had a small residential care home as a core part of its activities and social purpose. We offer a real home in a family-type setting to three adults with learning disabilities, each of whom has been with us for many years. The care home is registered with and regulated by the Care Quality Commission. But how did it come about that a busy farm like Tablehurst also runs a care home? The answer is bound up with the history of Tablehurst and its first farmer, Peter Brown and his family.

At the age of 21, Peter Brown left England for South Africa and a Camphill project near Cape Town. He stayed for 15 years, improving the farmland and helping to found the Biodynamic Association of South Africa in the process. Subsequently, Peter spent three years at a biodynamic farm in Germany, before returning to Forest Row in 1994 at the request of Emerson College, which at that time still owned Tablehurst Farm. Tablehurst was becoming a financial problem for Emerson at this time, and Peter was asked to come up with a proposal for change. He suggested that the farm should become a community farm and be made over to a charitable trust. A major community fundraising drive followed, which enabled a newly formed farm Co-op to buy the farm assets and acquire a tenancy of the land. Today the land and buildings are owned by the local charity, St Anthony’s Trust, which aims to ensure that Tablehurst (and its sister farm, Plaw Hatch, which it also owns) will always be farmed biodynamically and sustainably on behalf of the community.

From the beginning, the care home was a vital constituent part of the new community farm, not only as a social impulse but also as a means of farm diversification which brought in additional income and helped the farm finances to stabilise. Peter’s wife, Brigitte Brown, had trained as a teacher of handicapped children in Germany, and both she and Peter had spent many years working in a Camphill project in South Africa. Brigitte, who sadly died in November 2006, was devoted to the people with learning difficulties and together with Peter she created a warm and nurturing atmosphere for the residents in the care home cottage. The cottage had to be built out to accommodate the three residents (paid for by loans and income from local authorities), plus the Browns and their own three children.

The Browns did not have a co-worker at first and during the day work was found on the farm for the residents to do. The residents understood that working on the farm was part of what was expected of them, while Peter and other colleagues understood that farm tasks would take longer while working with “the guys”.

The care home today

Peter Brown and his family no longer live in the care home, although he and his son Robin still work and live on the farm and Peter is still very involved with our residents. Today the care home has a house co-ordinator, Torsten Draheim and his partner Trude Lauksund, who continue to provide our residents with the warm family tradition introduced by the Browns. We also have a co-worker, usually a gap year student from Germany, who lives in the care home and helps in all kinds of important ways. Our aims continue as they have always been, ie:

  • To help the residents lead a happy and fulfilling life.

  • To create a life situation where through their work, home and social life the residents are able to develop and maintain their own sense of personal worth and dignity.

  • To give the possibility of social contact and integration into the wider community.

  • To give opportunities for personal growth and new responsibilities.

A busy and fulfilling life

During the week, our residents work with the farm, garden and kitchen staff on a variety of vital tasks . These include: feeding the animals, preparing vegetables for sale , producing firewood for the farm’s heating needs, helping to cook the farm lunches, weeding in the polytunnels and garden, and preparing ingredients for our Tablehurst pies and sausage rolls.

In their leisure time, our residents take part in a wide range of activities, such as drama and social groups, art and speech therapy, swimming, cycling, shopping trips, outings to the gym, plays, films and pubs and so on. They also look after their own rooms and laundry and help with cleaning and vacuuming the care home.

Why small is beautiful

By living on a biodynamic and organic farm in a small care home that specialises in adults with similar needs, and by working on real tasks alongside farm staff, our residents can experience both meaningful work and life satisfaction. This comes not only through being part of an enthusiastic team but also through knowing that they are an integral and cherished part of Tablehurst Farm and the wider local community. Their presence and personalities contribute a special quality to the community life of the farm and as one of our staff members said to me: “the guys have a huge role in the farm – they bring laughter and humour, make us better people and more caring in our work.”

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