By Joanna Birley
My vision for the development of the land at Verwood Farm is to welcome visitors to my little corner of the Dorset countryside, whether they have reduced mobility through age or disability or are suffering from stress – they could benefit from the natural therapy you absorb by just being somewhere ‘rustic’ and interacting with animals.
I am especially keen to welcome people on rehab at the spinal unit in Salisbury, Wiltshire, were I went through rehab following my spinal cord injury in 1986.
Soon after injury, when the realisation dawns on you that you will truly never walk again, you are mentally very vulnerable – time to be shown that life in a chair is not the end of the road!
Fundraising permitting – my little corner will be a place visitors can come and enjoy themselves, whether relaxing with some refreshments and overlooking the fields, having a petting session with one of our lovely American miniature horses or for those confined to manual wheelchairs, exploring the countryside under electric power and wiping away, with a silly grin on their face, any negative feelings they may have accumulated since they were robbed of a level of activity whether through injury or age.
I also strongly feel that it was the calming ambiance of the natural surroundings that helped me not go into a downward mental spiral after my release from rehab.
I know rehab centres are under great pressure to hurry ‘inmates’ through to save money but they may physically ‘put you back together’ as best as they can but if your mind isn’t in a good place, it’s no better than fixing the bodywork on a smashed car but not fixing the engine.
There is definitely a ‘magic’ at the farm, a place that mental trauma can be eased with a good dose of the ‘feel-good factor’. I want to develop the facility to cater for the community as well, where they can de-stress, whether children or adults.
There is much more mental ‘ill-health’ about, it’s just not visible like a physical injury but probably has more destructive, far-reaching effects on someone, who, on the outside, looks perfectly in control of their life but on the inside can see no light at the end of the tunnel.
The site we operate from was the land of the old Verwood dairy and was part of a block of land purchased from the Dalton farming company back in 1974, for a schools complex. Three schools were planned but only the First and Middle school were built.
The land for the Upper school was leased out, firstly to the Dalton Company until 1992 when I took over the lease. Until such time as the Upper school is built, which will be of benefit to the community, I feel it is fitting that the site be open to the community.
The ‘balance’ course to be built on the farm, we will fondly call the Rocky Road and will consist of lumps, bumps and slopes, including gravel, sand, grass, roots, uneven pavements, speed bumps, broken slabs and slabs with huge nobbles.
This course will enable visitors to practise their use of wheelchair or prosthetic limb, especially for those whose only experience has been, of the smooth and unrealistic terrain of a hospital corridor.
It will also be our ‘test track’ for each piece of adaptive equipment we have.
And for those from further afield, that couldn’t make the trip in a day, overnight accommodation is planned, along the lines of the log cabin below, but all able to be moved in case the Upper school gets the green light.
Each log cabin we build will have a different layout of bathroom and kitchen as this is a real mind-bend for the wheelchair-user who is considering layout of bathroom and kitchen and which will work best for them.
You won’t find a selection of wheelchair-suitable kitchens at home improvement centres, so we hope our different cabins will help them decide.
The 15-acre site really is a perfect base for exploring by foot or use of adaptive cycles, being adjacent off-road trails, two commons, an old wood and only a short distance from a country park and 7000 acres of Forestry Commission land.
I also want to cater for local children, attracting them to enjoy being active outdoors, up off their electronic devices with a mini trail, some flower and vegetable plots and regular treasure hunts amongst the trees and fields.
We have been given a lovely wooden building, formerly a pool room, all dismantled, delivered to site and currently waiting to be rebuilt, so, we now have the makings of a lovely reception area.
I have found horse riding, but this time, Western-style (something to hold onto 🙂 ), a real thrill and once I have rebuilt the barn and found a qualified instructor, will be adding, to my variety of experiences on offer, a taste of Western riding either in the round pen or on an oval riding track with the added safety of my custom-built quick-release safety-belt Western saddle.
‘Walking’ view again – fabulous feeling 🙂
To enable easier wheelchair access to the trails off-site, we will need to invest in these trails, to ensure footpaths, cycle paths and bridleways are of a high enough standard that a wheelchair-user can follow the routes without the difficulty of narrowed, overgrown, rutted or muddy going, steps, stiles and poorly maintained gates and actively champion the conversion of the disused railway line heading both north and south of Dewlands common along with East Dorset Countryside Team.
Style of path as recommended by Sustrans:.
I have a few irons in a few fires – hoping to secure funding through venture capital, grants and crowdfunding.
With everyone supporting us who can imagine either themselves or a member of their family or a friend enjoying a visit here, then we will raise enough money to achieve our goals.
And, if you’re not disabled or have connections with anyone who is, please support the project with the ethos “There but for the grace of God go I!”
As far as acquired disabilities go, the shocking statistics for the UK are that every day there are:
3 spinal injuries
7000 critical illness survivors
And of course, we will all get old with the possibility of reduced mobility or dementia and in spinal injury individuals alone, the suicide rate is six times the national average!
So please support this project, look on it as insurance – you may go through life never needing to claim, but then again, you might… 🙂