High Sheriff of West Sussex visits Aldingbourne Country Centre
High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, visits Aldingbourne Country Centre and learns about its important work supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism, in particular how it was able to adapt its support through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new visitor centre at Aldingbourne Country Centre, near Chichester, has just won a prestigious Sussex Heritage Award and it was there that I met Sue Livett, managing director of Aldingbourne Trust, in its superb building, which provides a shop, café, conference rooms and offices, surrounded by 20 acres for visitors to enjoy.
The enterprises, which also include an open farm, horticulture, wood recycling and furniture restoration, provide training and employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities and autism who live in West Sussex.
Founded in 1978, the Aldingbourne Trust has grown to working with more than 1,400 people with learning disabilities and autism in West Sussex to live fulfilled and meaningful lives, supporting people to live independently and have life choices, which we all take for granted.
It does this by providing supported living services, supported employment - it holds the contract for supported employment in West Sussex and has helped more than 1,000 people into paid and voluntary work; social enterprises, providing some superb visitor experiences and conference facilities; drop in and guidance services and community projects across the county, including the much-valued Adopt a Station plant and floral displays across the rail network.
The Aldingbourne Country Centre has in previous years attracted up to 60,000 visitors, who enjoy a range of activities and events that take place throughout the year. All income generated is reinvested into the trust’s charitable works.
The Covid pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the Aldingbourne Trust and has proved very challenging to all those that benefit from its services. As all its enterprise activity had to cease, the trust immediately adapted its support so that people could remain physically and mentally well in their own homes. However, with reduced local authority income and a reduction in visitor income, it continues to have to develop its modus operandi while keeping the people it supports at the heart of everything.
Examples of the Aldingbourne Trust’s innovation and commitment to its work during Covid include a lottery grant for a Tech Buddy, to give digitally excluded people remote support with their online activities. These range from helping them identify scam emails and showing them how to stay safe online, to supporting them to take part in a range of activities run by the Aldingbourne Trust throughout the day. These include personal support as well as cooking lessons, quizzes, challenges, dance session, workouts, educational activities, poetry, mindfulness and lots more.
All the staff and volunteers at the trust have made a huge difference to those they support at this difficult time and I found one story Sue shared with me about Shannon particularly heartening.
Shannon experienced a bereavement at the beginning of the first lockdown. The trauma of the loss of her parent, and her confusion regarding the Covid restrictions, resulted in her putting herself at risk to the extent that a placement within a secure unit had to be considered - even though this was also likely to have a very adverse impact on her wellbeing.
Thankfully, Caroline, one of the trust’s support workers, made the wonderful offer to move in with Shannon in order to give her the crucial care that she needs. This has proved a great success and, with Caroline’s support, Shannon’s life is back on track and she is happily looking forward to Christmas.
For me, the transformative experience of Shannon due to the dedication of her support worker captures the spirit of Aldingbourne. It is a place of life and hope for many vulnerable people, and their families, and West Sussex is truly fortunate to have such a remarkable organisation in our midst.
For more information about the Aldingbourne Trust, visit www.aldingbournetrust.org
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