Tell us a little bit about your business – when it started etc?
Ferring Country Centre was founded in 1986 by two families who both had children with learning disabilities. They had realised that there were limited options for their children when leaving school. The ethos they created 34 years ago remains the same, to provide work type opportunities in a safe and supportive environment for adults with learning disabilities.
Ferring Country Centre offers a variety of experiences within our day service, including working with animals on Dales Farm, horses within the Riding Therapy Unit, growing and selling plants within the Horticulture unit, and catering within our Customer Dining Room and Ranger’s Café.
Additionally, Dales Farm, Ranger’s Café, The Garden Centre and Gift Shop are all open daily to the general public. We also run a riding school on site.
Over the years our site at Rife Way in Ferring has been significantly improved. In 2020 we opened our new purpose built visitor centre and Café, improved the surface of our nature trail to ensure it is accessible all year round, and built a woodwork and craft workshop. These improvements enable us to offer excellent facilities to all who benefit from our services whilst allowing us to grow our commercial activities, which in turn help us to be sustainable in the long term.
What does a normal day consist of/look like for you?
My day starts with the alarm going off at 6:30am, followed quickly by a dash downstairs to let the dogs out into the garden, then I will check my youngest daughter is up and moving if it is a college day and then it’s time for work!
I often reflect on my way into work, particularly on bright sunny mornings that I am so lucky to work in such a wonderful environment.
I like to be in the office by 7:30am, at my desk with a coffee in hand and enjoying a few moments peace. By 8am the management team will have arrived, and we spend some time catching up over coffee and planning the day.
I don’t really have a normal day, my role is broad and therefore my days are varied; sometimes its dealing with staffing issues, other times attending meetings with our Commissioners, looking at our strategic directions and financial position, meeting with our Trustees and of course, since March 2020, reviewing and risk assessing our organisational response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What do you love about being based on the South Coast?
I have lived on the South Coast all of my life, in fact I lived in Ferring Village as a child and my parents still do.
I love having both the downs and the beach at hand. In the summer a perfect day is to leave work and head to the beach with my family and our kayaks; and in the winter months woodland walks with the dogs and muddy bike rides are a must!
What have been some of your biggest challenges during the global pandemic?
The global pandemic has provided us as an organisation with a number of challenges since March. Our Chairman, Bob Rogers, has enjoyed reminding me that one of my favourite mantra’s is that “with every challenge there comes an opportunity”.
In March as we closed the Centre to our Day Service Customers and the general public due to the national lockdown, whilst leaving a skeleton staff crew on site to care for the animals, it felt overwhelmingly sad and a little desperate. I cleared my office and set myself up at home in my spare room and worried about what the future would hold for us as an organisation, for those we support and those we employ, eight months later and it feels like we have managed to navigate the storm reasonably well.
One of our greatest successes of 2020 was launching an online garden centre. In a matter of days discussions moved from what do we do with all these bedding plants, it’s such a waste, to which post codes shall we deliver too for free and do we have enough staff? This was a great financial benefit for Ferring, but it went beyond that it gave us purpose in what was the bleakest time for many of us. Our staff team came together from different areas of the site and worked as a team (socially distanced of course!) and it made us stronger.
As lock down eased the Government issued guidance on how to implement a Covid-19 secure work environment. During May we embraced this as a team and implemented many measures across the site with a view to restarting day services. All was in place by early June and we were able to start bringing additional staff back to site and by the end of the month we were welcoming our first Day Service Customers back.
I am incredibly proud of our team here at Ferring and all that we have achieved over the past year. Everyone including Day Service Customers, have responded positively to the new routines and we are learning to live a new normal.
As we are now in the third lockdown, which of course has posed more challenges to us, but we will, just like last time, over come them and we will be stronger on the other side. This time our Garden Centre remains open and is offering an online ordering and delivery service. Rangers Café is open for take away only. The Outdoor play area is bookable online for 1 hour time slots and Dales Farm remains closed.
Do you have any future goals for the Centre or things you are looking forward to as life returns to normal (whenever that will be!)?
We look forward to a more normal way of life, hopefully welcoming back all of our Day Service Customers in some form, establishing our new Ranger’s Café and perhaps hoping that 2021 maybe a little easier than 2020.
How have Blue Spire helped you with your business?
We use Blue Spire as our payroll provider as well as our Auditors.
The payroll service is excellent and has supported us brilliantly with the furlough claims during these past months.
Jon and Geoff have led our Audit for a number of years, and I have been working with them closely since I joined Ferring Country Centre in 2017. They are professional, supportive and encouraging whilst ensuring we are totally compliant with Companies House and the Charity Commission.