I wanted to rush out to buy a penthouse flat with money we really don’t have at the moment but fortunately a visit from Vahe and Kerry and long chat made me realise that due to The Zach Project needing to be up and running in a really short time frame , renting a suitable place was the way forward. It was difficult to know where to look.
For some years I have been involved with the Hertford charity Mudlarks which is run by my friend Vic Hobson. It is a great charity which has been growing year on year. It is a community allotment project and I remember when after much battling Vic got the piece of ground which was to be the allotment, I went down to see it and it was literally a big clump of couch grass. Fortunately Vic is visionary and she could see something which I couldn’t, anyway some years on and it is an inspirational place and a vibrant allotment with many different areas of interest, it is a great place to visit as everyone who goes enjoys what they are doing and with every visit there is new interest.
Mudlarks supports adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. You can find out more about Mudlarks at wordpress.mudlarksgarden.org.uk and café.mudlarksgarden.org.uk
One day Vic said to me I am going to open a café….and she did! because she usually does what she says she will. The first property we had for the café needed a lot of work putting in and once again Vic’s vision was truly….. well visionary!
After weeks of really hard graft we had a very quirky café, the only vegetarian and vegan café in Hertford, called Mudlarks Garden Café. Produce from the allotment is used when possible and everything is cooked or baked upstairs in the kitchen. We also get Hertford residents bringing produce into the café from their gardens or allotments for us to use.
The most wonderful thing about the café is that it employs adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues. Staff are taught all they need to know about food and hygiene, how to work as a team and really importantly they are contributing to the community and being paid to do a job! Mencap gives the figure of just 1 in 10 people with a learning disability in paid work, and that is usually only part time work and low paid.
We have just recently moved next door to number 10 Railway Street, a property with fully functioning electricity and central heating (we did have a gorgeous open fire at number 12)! It is without doubt the funkiest café in Hertford and it is great that our regulars have moved with us and we are attracting new customers too. I volunteer in the café on a Tuesday, and have been part of the team since we opened and I really love it.
Mudlarks also has a community gardening service, so skills learned on the allotment are transferred to another setting in a private garden, or the garden of a local business. They also do the gardening at Hertford Castle so if you are in town you can pop in and see just what they do. If you are a regular at Hertford Town and have seen their pristine ground Mudlarks are responsible for that. This part of the charity is called Larking About. To book Larking About to come to you please call Andy on 07866 659679 to discuss your gardening needs.
There is also a large house in Hertford which Mudlarks use in wet weather and other occasions when they need to be indoors. In the summer we have had The wonderful Mikron Theatre group come and give open air performances in the garden and we have also used it for other events. Various community groups use Scott House and it is a great asset to the charity. It is a base for the all important admin team to work from and at the fund raising meeting in early February it was mentioned we needed to find people to rent the rooms upstairs.
After Vahe and Kerry had chatted to me about not needing the flat but renting, it dawned on me that the rooms would make a great base for The Zach Project. They are beautiful rooms in a perfect spot, a few minutes walk from the town centre and pretty close to public transport links. There is a large garden and plenty of space, it is ideal.O
One of the (many) hurdles I need to cross to get the project off the ground is to convince Hertfordshire that Zach going out of the house to learn is integral to the success of the venture. Many people with disability receive support in their homes and the community but I don’t know of anyone else who has a base elsewhere.
Zach has spent 16 years of his life doing pretty much what he wants to in our home so in my opinion it doesn’t make an ideal learning base. He needs, as we all need to be out of the home every day, have a routine which involves getting up at a reasonable time, having structure to the day and feel relaxed and as far as possible unchallenged at home.
Another reason why it is vital for Zach to have a learning hub is he needs his independence , I can’t think of many 18 year olds who want to spend all their time with their parents and there is no reason why Zach and other young people with learning disabilities should be any different. The less independence a person has, the less they are able to make their own choices and good self informed decisions.
I sent Vic a text message asking her if we could have three of the rooms at Scott House for Zach’s learning base and she sent back a single word answer which was ‘Yes’! with a kiss of course.
So very excitingly we have expert support from Beam ABA and a base at Scott House, I am now putting together my ‘pitch’ to present to Hertfordshire to persuade them that this will be a really innovative and worthwhile project for them to invest in.