A farm at the heart of the community

We really do grow people alongside produce.”

Food, nature and social services: a good package all rolled in one.

19th December 2022

The Prospects Trust’s Snakehall Farm in rural Cambridgeshire shows how one farm can grow food, protect nature and provide a social service to its community.

“We started with just a farmhouse and a couple of these outbuildings,” explains Prospects Trust’s Maz Baker, “but we’ve grown so much. Now we have 17 polytunnels, as well as fields packed with produce, a woodwork studio and a wildlife pond.”

The farm is a county farm – which means it’s owned by the council and let to Prospects Trust to provide social care for adults with additional needs. The farm’s produce is sold in nearby Ely, but by planning the farm’s layout with nature, community and accessibility in mind, the team have made Snakehall so much more than just a place to grow food.

Maz Baker, Executive Director of Prospects Trust.

The farm’s Co-workers have a range of additional needs. Sometimes, Maz explains, “their needs have taken them so far away from the employment market, that just participating in anything is important.” And yet at Snakehall, they can play a critical role in the business.

Social care and farming have a symbiotic connection in Snakehall Farm.

In turn, the farm is designed with them in mind. Broad pathways are woodchipped, beds are raised for access and there are woods and quiet spots for those who need more space. Maz introduces Anne, an older Co-worker who uses a wheelchair. “Her role has been adapted for her over time, to allow her to continue to contribute. That's sort of the magic of what we do.”

“If we didn't have Co-workers and the staff that we've got here”, farm manager Mark Cornell reflects, “and there was just me out there, I wouldn't be able to run this whole farm. It would kill me.”

Mark Cornell, Farm Manager at Prospects Trust.

For Mark, farming and care work have always been two important parts of his life. He tells us, “I started volunteering at the National Trust. They offered me a job and I ended up as a deputy warden. That role led me to meet someone with Down Syndrome, who became a good friend and changed my outlook on learning disabilities. So I changed course and came to work here.”

The farm’s product is sold in their store in Ely, called Unwrapped, alongside other zero-waste product refills. The store provides valuable experience for the Co-workers as well as an income for the charity, which in turn means that Cambridgeshire County Council saves money on the social care funding.

“We open six days a week. People's needs don't stop on Friday at four o'clock, so part of our provision at Unwrapped was to say, well, we can provide day-care day opportunities on a Saturday too,” Maz tells us.

“We're not in it to make millions because we can't. And, yeah, it's been a battle, hasn't it? And the cost of living is just increasing so rapidly. We’re all told that adult social care is a burden on the economy, but those needs still need to be met. So We're showing you can meet those basic needs, and more.” Where possible, Maz explains, the team supports Co-workers to "be in charge of their own destinies and find jobs” rather than end up in a lifetime of care.

A. prepping tomatoes in the Enterprise Kitchen. Photo by Prospects Trust.

Co-workers gain gardening, retail and catering experience through the farm and Unwrapped. “One of our Co-workers at Unwrapped is actually doing that this month. She's got a job in Cambridge, and she's going to be working a part-time shift, which means that she's not going to be dependent on social care payments any longer.”

The beneficial relationships are there too between the farm’s Co-workers and the local environment. Having access to land and nature is a key part of Prospects Trust’s model of care, and the community gives back to the land through hedgerows, woodlands and wildflowers.

Mark is expanding this conservation work through a new project on their field.

He explains, “We’re creating a new patch of woodland, with open areas. There'll be scrapes, there'll be wildlife, there'll be wildflowers. Lots of butterflies and bees. There's a lot to be said for walking in woodland, for everyone’s mental health. Add to that the wildlife, and the carbon offsetting we will be able to do – and it’s going to be fantastic.

“We've already got grass snakes, damsel flies, newts. And in our wood, we have woodpeckers nesting. So we’re not just creating opportunities for our Co-workers to grow food.

It's everything - it's a good package all rolled in one.”

Maz Baker is Executive Director and Mark Cornell is Farm Manager at The Prospects Trust’s Snakehall Farm.