Peter Hall: Giving Services veterans space to unwind
When all seems doom and gloom, and cynicism rules OK, a little ray of sunshine in the form of good news about a farming enterprise is worth grabbing, if by nature you are an optimist.
Hush Farms, based at Branscombe in East Devon, are run by Penny and Jon Bond, who have begun a scheme to give veterans of the armed services, and their carers, quality time down on the farm.
Penny told me their aims were two-fold: to help people who are not feeling so good about life find a fresh outlook and new options to move forward. And to create a legacy by encouraging other farms and landowners to adopt a similar model.
The erstwhile high-flying businesswoman swapped designer suits for boiler suits to pursue her new career, after suffering a traumatic riding accident. She stashed away the high heels in preference to wearing wellies and wading in the mud with Samson, her heavy horse and loyal friend.
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Now her days involve working with Samson to provide leadership training for corporate businesses, which helps to sponsor her "Experience Days" for war veterans, giving them a retreat away from everyday pressures.
The commercial arm of Hush Farms provides nationally accredited training for farming and forestry, public services and charities, as well as corporate-development workshops.
The enterprise draws on a network of 20 local freelance instructors and the team also includes Rosebud, Orchid, Doris, Handsome-Samson and Tricky-Mickey, which range from Shires to a tiny Welsh Mountain pony. Refreshingly there's not a Powerpoint slide in sight.
Penny explained: "Those taking part so often experience a personal light-bulb moment that will transform their careers and their social lives – it certainly transforms their performance at work."
Both Penny and Jon grew up in farming communities and are passionate about the restorative power of nature, the countryside, animals and farming – the sort of things most of us know all about, but don't often really appreciate. Jon had spent a lifetime managing diverse farm estates when he first took on his own farm tenancy ten years ago. Having experienced the loss of several close family members through both sudden and long-term illnesses, both he and Penny were struck with the desire to create a respite centre on their farm, funded through corporate services.