New centre opened at Thornage Hall

A special place helping teach skills to people with special needs has opened a new centre in memory of one of its stalwart fund-raisers.

Thornage Hall near Holt is home to 24 adult tenants with a range of learning disabilities who are nurtured to a more fulfilling life through activities such as farming, gardening and crafts.

A new centre in a converted barn on the 70-acre site is now offering similar opportunities to day visitors, mainly from the north of the county.

It is dedicated to Miranda Stratton from Woodbastwick near Norwich, whose son James, 46, is among the tenants. She raised more than �400,000 for the hall over the past quarter century through Christmas bazaars before her death aged 77 in March.

Inside the studios named after her, day visitors will learn woodwork, willow weaving, card making and herb drying, which operations director Helen Saunders said gave them useful skills as well as produced products sold to boost the complex's funds.

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Thornage Hall's tenants are aged from 18 to their 60s and have a range of difficulties from autism to Downs Syndrome.

They work on a farm which has cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens, tend a garden which produces organics vegetable boxes, bake bread and tackle crafts including making bird boxes and willow weaving. A new 365-tree orchard had also been planted and should begin providing fruit next year

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Mrs Saunders said the tenants came from as far afield as Yorkshire and Nottingham, with their places funded by local authorities. About 30 more day sessions a week were used by more local visitors.

'We have about six day service visitors using the new craft workshop but want to open it to more people,' she added. 'The uniqueness of our place is that we are doing real life skills to take to the real workplace.'

Some people went on to do voluntary jobs and the centre was looking to get some of its tuition accredited by City College Norwich to provide a qualification.

James Stratton, who does vegetable gardening, helps at a local farm shop and is studying plants, garden design and gardening history, said: 'My life at Thornage is great.'

The hall is linked to a nationwide family of Camphill communities, which helps people with learning disabilities, but is also a standalone charity in its own right.

For more information about the hall and its work call 01263 860305 or visit

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