This Cheshire charity has kept going through lockdown, but now really needs our help

PUBLISHED: 12:55 25 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:53 25 August 2020

There are many farm animals to get to know at CAFT. Photo: Jamie Forrest.

There are many farm animals to get to know at CAFT. Photo: Jamie Forrest.

JAMIE-FORREST

The Children’s Adventure Farm Trust near Altrincham has been keeping people smiling

Children’s Adventure Farm Trust's CEO Ian Eccles. Photo: Andrew Collier PhotographyChildren’s Adventure Farm Trust's CEO Ian Eccles. Photo: Andrew Collier Photography

What are your fondest childhood memories? Perhaps they might include being crammed into dormitories on school trips, or family holidays to the countryside – these are experiences that many of us might have taken for granted at the time, but for some local children they simply aren’t possible, with circumstances that are out of their control preventing them from having a so-called ‘normal’ childhood. That’s where the wonderful Children’s Adventure Farm Trust (CAFT) steps in. Nestled in ten acres of Cheshire countryside, yet conveniently just off the M56, the charity welcomes terminally ill, disabled and disadvantaged children from right across the region. Children can come to the 17th century farmhouse here for free, either just for the day or for a residential holiday, with an adventure playground, sports hall, games room, music room and multi-sensory room to explore (among various other accessible activities). That’s not forgetting the resident farm animals, including friendly alpacas, sheep, donkeys and goats; it is, in other words, a complete paradise for young people.

When we chat, the charity’s CEO Ian Eccles seems to embody the welcoming atmosphere of the place. ‘The idea of the charity originally was to let children be children, and to forget the problems that are going on in their lives,’ he reflects. ‘We allow them to have a structured good time, and it’s a nice, rural environment that a lot of children wouldn’t normally get the chance to go to.’

But when Ian took on the role of CEO a year and a half ago, little did he know that he would be responsible for navigating the charity through a global pandemic. ‘It happened so fast. We were mid-programme, because generally in term-time we have schools staying with us on a residential programme and we also have groups coming in on day trips,’ he recalls. ‘When groups started cancelling in March, there was really a sense that something was happening. Then obviously the announcement [about lockdown] came from the government and we came to a grinding halt.’

Staff at the charity were put on the furlough scheme, whilst Ian and a few willing volunteers kept things ticking over – which, with acres of gardens and a small herd of animals to care for, can’t have been an easy task.

There's plenty of fun both indoors and out. Photo: Andrew Collier Photography.There's plenty of fun both indoors and out. Photo: Andrew Collier Photography.

Although CAFT’s usual fundraising activities have had to be put on hold, this hasn’t stopped them from rallying the local community together for various virtual events instead. There have been sporting challenges off the back of the cancelled London marathon, as well as weekly quizzes that have proved hugely popular. The legendary comedian, Jason Manford, a patron of the charity, has even stepped in to raise funds for the Farm, which involved him taking on the task of working as an Iceland delivery driver for a day in exchange for his wages being donated to CAFT.

‘It started off as a bit of a joke, because he’d applied for a delivery driver job at Tesco and got turned down. Iceland picked it up and said come and work for us, and we’ll give a donation,’ Ian smiles. ‘He’s a really genuine guy.’

Ian notes that the support from across the local community has been incredible, which he puts down to the fact that CAFT has been around for well over three decades now. ‘It feels like the charity belongs to lots of different people,’ he reasons. ‘You’ve got the people who use the charity’s services, but also our supporters and volunteers and friends. There are quite a lot of people who are concerned for the charity, and they’ve all wanted to keep in touch with each other.’

I comment that ahead of speaking to him, I’d noticed the huge number of posts shared by families on social media about what CAFT means to them. ‘There’s no better feedback than that,’ Ian says, ‘because we can tell people all about how brilliant the place is, but you need to hear it from the people who have been and it’s always straight from the heart.’

Lockdown might be easing, but Ian’s work is far from complete: now, he’s busy preparing for the new school year in September, by which time he hopes their normal programmes might be able to resume. ‘The best bit of the job is knowing that every day, you’re providing a really worthwhile service,’ he concludes. ‘It’s a very fulfilling job.’

Find out more at caft.co.uk and see how you could help support this outstanding charity.

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