Thirty years of boosting the lives of adults with learning disabilities

PUBLISHED: 16:36 11 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:36 11 July 2019

Thornage Hall Independent Living celebrated 30 years since it opened its doors in June

Thornage Hall Independent Living celebrated 30 years since it opened its doors in June


Daniel Williams, director of VCSE management consultancy Your Norfolk, explains how Thornage Hall Independent Living is both enhancing and extending the lives of people with learning disabilities in Norfolk

The learning journey begins at birth. As a parent my hope is that my children will continue to progress and enjoy their learning into a place of work, enabling them to live independent lives, and follow their own path to happiness. But for those born with a learning disability, these most fundamental of expectations are dramatically restricted.

For the last few months I have been working with a Norfolk-based charity which has been breaking the mould in providing diverse living, working and learning opportunities for adults with a learning disability. In June this year Thornage Hall Independent Living celebrated 30 years since it opened its doors. In that time the charity has done much to improve expectations for those with a learning disability and for their families; now the charity is turning its attention to a new challenge.

Based in the heart of north Norfolk, just five minutes' drive from Holt, the charity provides supported living for 27 adults, each of whom hold individual tenancies. Support is on hand to ensure that they can live independently and that they can pursue working and learning activities of their choosing, and there is quite a choice. A further 30 adults, known as day service users, also travel to the site each week to take part in the working and learning activities.

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The charity was formed following the donation of the 
Hall itself and a 70-acre parcel of land by the 22nd Baron of Hastings, whose second son, Justin, was born with Downs syndrome. Justin attended a Steiner school in Hampshire and it is this philosophy which provides the cornerstone for the charity.

Rudolph Steiner was the founder of biodynamic farming and of anthroposophy, a philosophy which holds that "a perfectly-formed spirit and destiny belongs to each human being". Everybody who works at Thornage Hall upholds this philosophy, ensuring every adult who lives there, or who attends the day services, are supported to pursue their own destiny. On July 18, the charity is holding a support worker recruitment open day. This is part of an ongoing commitment to ensure sufficient skilled and experienced staff are available to meet the future aspirations of its tenants and day service users.

The site is home to a biodynamic farm. Red Poll cattle are bred for their renowned beef, alpacas provide wool for the weavery workshop and the free range hens provide eggs which are used in the bakery. The garden provides a huge range of seasonal produce which are not only eaten by the tenants but are also sold through a number of outlets. Norfolk chefs Galton Blackiston and Richard Bainbridge both use the produce in their restaurants, promoting both the quality and the provenance. A farm manager and a garden manager head up small teams of trained staff who are employed to support tenants and day service users to own the process of sowing, tending and harvesting crops whilst also tending to the livestock and the estate in general. These real life working environments across the farm and garden are complimented by specialist workshops including woodwork, weavery, willow, bakery, and IT.

Many of the tenants have lived at Thornage Hall for a large part of the 30 years since opening and the life expectancy of people with learning disabilities has continued to increase over that time. Predictions suggest that by 2030 the number of adults over the age of 70 using services for people with learning disabilities will more than double. The charity is governed by an independent board of local Trustees who are working with the executive staff team to address this challenge.

The 30th anniversary will be marked by the opening of a new activities centre and fully accessible communal space, alongside the launch of an ambitious £1m fundraising appeal to build Orchard Lodge. The new building will house four flats, all built to full accessibility standards for those living with a learning disability. Orchard Lodge will mark the next chapter in the history of Thornage Hall Independent Living, providing equality of opportunity into old age for those who are born with a learning disability

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