A mentoring partnership between Glachbeg Croft, The Black Isle, and Breezy Croft, Caithness.

From summer 2017- spring 2018, The Federation of City Farms, now known as Social Farms and Gardens with support from Central Green Scotland Network Trust and The Big Lottery ran a pilot mentoring project. The aim was to explore paying experienced member projects with established skills and expertise for their time supporting nascent groups to get established or explore a particular issue for development.

One such partnership was mentoring between Glachbeg Croft on The Black Isle, an established working croft providing educational opportunities for adults with additional support needs, and the newly established Breezy Croft near Halkirk in Caithness. A small working croft looking to establish a project along the Care Farm model.

Background

Glachbeg Croft was set up in 2001 by Bob and Helen Bull. Bob was a Rural Studies teacher in Southampton and, in addition to running school farms, had also overseen a City Farm, which then merged with the school farm to be known as Down To Earth.

Glachbeg provides a “hands on” practical context for learning, and placements are available to adults and children who require or would benefit from high levels of support. Most placements are on a one to one basis. There are also whole class visits and other activities. Glachbeg has Shetland cattle, sheep, poultry, woodland, a garden, polytunnel and pond. Its activities run out of a purpose-built “eco building”. It presently employs five staff.

Breezy Croft is owned and run by Katie Webster, an Occupational Therapist with over 13 years’ experience in supporting people with a range of learning disabilities, autism and mental health services. It is a relatively new project, having only launched in November 2017, offering social and therapeutic farming placements for anyone who would benefit.

Mentoring support After initial contact between Bob and Katie and an agreement about the nature of the information and advice Katie wanted, Katie arranged a visit to Glachbeg to see the croft and spend time looking at the policies and procedures they have in place.

Katie’s areas of interest were:

  • How to balance the differing priorities of what needs doing on the farm versus what would benefit clients.
  • How to arrange payment, cancellations, refunds and invoicing.
  • Practical activity ideas for different groups.
  • Planning the growing year/activity year.
  • How to balance administration and hands on placement delivery.
  • Exploring possible diverse income streams alongside the placements service.
  • Tips for getting professionals on side/to refer, etc.
  • Exploring how to balance the croft and her regular O.T. job. 

After their initial meet it was agreed that Bob go and visit Breezy Croft. This gave Katie time to consider the things that had been discussed during the first meeting, and to have follow up discussions within the context to which they would apply.

What were the outcomes for Katie at Breezy Croft?

“The mentoring with Bob took place in early January 2018, around two months after I’d launched Breezy Croft. The opportunity to have time with an experienced mentor couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The first outcome was around money. The most urgent issue that I was dealing with at that time was around pricing our service and managing bookings and cancellations. I’d always worked for the NHS or for charities, so I’d never had to deal with the ‘business’ end of providing a service before. The mentoring from Bob gave me a privileged insight into the financial workings of Glachbeg. This gave me the ability to refine my pricing structures and gave me more confidence to set and enforce my terms & conditions, and my systems for invoicing and payment.

“The second outcome was around shelter. With the long, harsh winter of 2017-18, it was becoming clear to me that a good indoor space for a care farm service is not a luxury! It was really useful to see Bob’s purpose-built eco-building, which is a very impressive building for anyone who hasn’t seen it – to hear about how he made it happen, and what it means he can offer to his clients. It made me realise that getting a warm and properly weather-proof indoor space needs to be a priority before next winter bites, and Bob provided practical tips on how to make it happen.

“The third outcome for me was the chance to compare and contrast Bob’s established service model with my own emerging one. Even though we’re theoretically doing the same thing, there are also a lot of differences – Bob tends to provide full or half-day sessions whereas I’m providing 2-3 hour sessions, he usually offers 1:1 input whereas at that time I was only looking at small groups, and he comes from a teaching background whereas I come from an occupational therapy background. It was great to be able to discuss the way these different choices work in practice and to talk about options I’d not considered before.”

Outcomes for Bob: 

  • “Most Highland projects are quite solitary so opportunities to meet other people with related interests has a social benefit to me. 
  • It marks a point in time to evaluate what Glachbeg does and to single out the practices that are the most and least effective, and those that are worth sharing and those that are not.” 
  • Bob was able to see another site and what it does, and this allows for the sharing of good practice and also first-hand knowledge of projects.
  • This knowledge of other projects also helps those with links to Glachbeg to see that it is a part of a wider context and that, though unusual, Glachbeg is one project amongst others.
  • Bob can learn things from others, including working methods and practices. This gives opportunities for both parties to innovate – Katie’s approach to her work is from the perspective of an O.T., whereas Bob’s would be from the perspective of a teacher.

Clearly the benefits of mentoring in this instance have been invaluable to both parties. A report on our overall findings from the mentor pilot can be found here . We hope in the future, where deemed appropriate, to include bespoke mentoring as part of our support package to members. If you’d like to know more, please contact scotland@farmgarden.org.uk.

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