More than meets the eye at Shirebrook's Willow Tree Farm
Willow Tree Farm may seem like another ordinary visitor's farm, but in reality, it offers so much more.
The four-acre site on Langwith Road, Shirebrook, opened in 2002, as an urban farm for the community.
It provided educational visits for schools, in a forest school setting, but started to struggle when schools began to run their own outdoor education programmes.
Willow Tree was due to close eight years ago, until directors David Taylor and Adam Hind decided to open the farm up to the public on weekends.
The farm has gone from strength to strength since, and prides itself on its education courses for young people and adults with learning disabilities and autism.
As well as being a visitor farm open to the public, Willow Tree Farm provides education to adults and children over eight who struggle in mainstream schools.
Not only are core subjects like maths and english taught, but learners can receive qualifications in animal therapy and care.
Learners also have an active social life through the farm, going on regular days out such as a monthly bowling trip.
They stay at Willow Tree Farm until they can integrate back into mainstream schools, or get a place at a specialist SEN school.
David says that the animals on the farm are a massive help to people with learning disabilities.
He said: "For some of the learners here, its the end of the line - they've got nowhere to go.
"They're not failures, they're just lost and need extra help and support.
"We gain their trust and get them to open up. After we get them to engage, they often want to sit and learn.
"If someone is upset or needs a minute, they can take some time out with their favourite animals, who don't answer back!
"We often see learners' anxiety and frustration drop when they are with the animals.
David, a former care manager, said he was tired of the red tape often involved in helping people in care, and wanted to really make a difference in people's lives.
He added: "If I can change a child's life and put one person on the right track, that's one less person needing that extra support."
Nine learners were integrated back into mainstream school last year, after taking part in the farm's education scheme.
Learners have the chance to earn qualifications such as NVQs in animal care, which one teen left with earlier this year.
Young adults are also taught life skills such as cooking, cleaning, how to manage money and catch a bus - all of which David says others may take for granted.
The entire farm is funded by donations, which David says is often a struggle.
With over 400 animals, and more being rescued all the time, the bill to run the farm often comes to over £100,000 a year.
If you wish to help, you can donate to the farm over the phone, or drop off animal feed or accessories at the farm.
OPENING TIMES AND PRICES
Friday: 10am - 3pm
??Saturday: 10am - 4pm
?Sunday: 10am - 4pm
under two years free
Family ticket £20.00
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
There are over 400 animals on the farm, including meerkats, wallabies, reindeer, pygmy goats, alpacas, harris hawks and bearded dragons.
There is also a crazy golf course, cafe, bouncy beds, and a beach.
There is also the chance for visitors to take reptile handling workshops, a meerkat talk, and animal petting.
Throughout the summer holidays, special events are planned such as a teddy making workshop, circus skills, and a fairy tales and unicorn day.
All information can be found at: willowtree-farm.co.uk/whats-on-events
To find out about donations, or the learning programmes, call David on 01623 748808.