A small North Devon charity that helps young adults with learning and physical disabilities or mental health issues to gain greater independence has taken its work outside during the coronavirus pandemic.
Next Steps Development has a charity shop in Barnstaple High Street and a workshop and café at St Georges Road, which all had to close with lockdown, preventing the charity from working with its clients.
So during lockdown it has been working to adapt its services and continue to offer support to clients on its smallholding on the outskirts of Barnstaple.
The shutdown period has enabled volunteers to work on expanding the smallholding to enable them to re-open safely when it was allowed.
Due to the expansion it can now offer more places and would like to hear from any local families whose relatives might benefit from the service.
The farm covers several acres and offers a safe environment with social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
The charity was originally set up by Louise and Lee Bensley as they tried to find a place of work for their son Josh when he turned 18. It soon became obvious there were many local families in the same situation and Next Steps was born.
Normally clients would work at St Georges Road, in its café or the High Street charity shop, supported by a team of volunteers with a wide range of skills.
Louise said the coronavirus had hugely affected the mental health of everyone and how they could continue to offer support.
She said of the smallholding: “Being outdoors and caring for lots of lovely animals is very therapeutic and enables energy to be expended. Meet new people, make new friends and learn new skills.
“We are an accredited AQA centre and all training is evidenced with certificates, forming a portfolio you can be proud to present to prospective employers.
“We also have amazing employment opportunities, with our focus being to employ people with disabilities and can offer support to ensure they reach their full potential.”