Your Good Lives

Phil and Brenda Leonard can thank their daugh­ter Mil­lie for the launch of their busi­nesses Pip­pin Al­pacas Ther­apy and Ap­ple Tree Farm Ser­vices. Jack Smellie re­ports

Country Smallholding - - Contents - To find out more about Pip­pin Al­pacas Ther­apy and Ap­ple Tree Farm Ser­vices visit www.ap­ple­tree­farm­ser­ or Face­book @ pip­pinal­pacas.

Down on Ap­ple Tree Farm

Three-year-old Mil­lie Leonard wears a bright fuch­sia out­door all-in-one and a wide smile. She is the rea­son that Brenda and Phil Leonard de­cided to move from Sur­rey to Devon. Mildly af­fected by cere­bral palsy due to a peri­na­tal stroke, Mil­lie’s con­di­tion prompted the cou­ple to make the life-chang­ing de­ci­sion to head to the West Coun­try so that their daugh­ter could ex­pe­ri­ence a more or­ganic up­bring­ing away from all the noise and hus­tle that she de­tested.

Due to her dis­abil­ity, Mil­lie has lim­ited use of her right side, in­clud­ing her arm, hand, leg and foot. She also sports a splint.

“Very early on it be­came clear that life in the sub­urbs over­whelmed her as she be­gan to dis­play strong so­cial anx­i­eties,” Phil says. “We’ve al­ways had dogs, so the ar­rival of our pup Monty around the time of Mil­lie’s first birth­day was an in­ten­tional ther­a­peu­tic move, care­fully or­ches­trated so as to en­cour­age her to find the abil­ity to move. It worked and it only took two weeks for her to be able to mer­maid crawl, if only to get away from his sharp puppy teeth. It was be­cause of this over the fol­low­ing year that our busi­ness idea was born.”

That idea was to set up an­i­mal-as­sisted ther­apy ses­sions for dis­abled chil­dren and young adults and, when a property with an es­tab­lished live­stock busi­ness be­came avail­able in Devon, their idea could re­ally start to take shape.

Ap­ple Tree Farm is set in eight acres of tran­quil Devon coun­try­side just a few miles from Barn­sta­ple. It dou­bles as home to 16 al­pacas and a small flock of Oues­sant sheep. Hav­ing been run as an es­tab­lished small­hold­ing for many years, the in­fra­struc­ture was al­ready there, which proved to be an im­por­tant fac­tor in help­ing Brenda and Phil to swiftly get the busi­ness up and run­ning.

De­spite hav­ing only moved in four months pre­vi­ously, what Brenda and Phil have achieved is as­tound­ing. A for­mer barn al­ready con­tains a toi­let, kitchen and class­room fa­cil­ity and they have also set up a large work­shop which will be the per­fect space dur­ing times of in­clement weather. They have added pigs, chick­ens and ducks to their ex­ist­ing stock and, just last month, had their first school group around for a day of ther­a­peu­tic farm­ing.

Pig and al­paca hugs

Keen to kick start their busi­ness on the right foot­ing, Brenda and Phil have in­vested a large amount of time and money into re­search and train­ing, which will con­tinue as the busi­ness de­vel­ops and evolves.

“Through re­search I found out about Care Farm­ing UK, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that works to pro­mote and sup­port care farms which are of­fer­ing ther­a­peu­tic and ed­u­ca­tional farm­ing prac­tices,” says Brenda. “For me, the cred­i­bil­ity of what I want to of­fer is hugely im­por­tant, so self-de­vel­op­ment be­came my fo­cus. I en­rolled on a va­ri­ety of cour­ses and very quickly com­pleted my first one in an­i­mal as­sisted ther­apy and in­ter­ven­tions. I also com­pleted my Coun­try­side Ed­u­ca­tional Vis­its Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Scheme through the Open Col­lege Net­work. This en­cour­ages en­gage­ment with the land, an­i­mals and with na­ture. It is an en­tirely holis­tic ap­proach that helps in­di­vid­u­als achieve be­yond what they can achieve in so­ci­ety.”

The ef­fects of this new life­style on Mil­lie have al­ready been quite re­mark­able. Within weeks of mov­ing into the small­hold­ing, she was a dif­fer­ent child, ac­cord­ing to Phil. “She was more talk­a­tive, re­laxed, sleep­ing bet­ter and ex­plor­ing the world around her,” he says. “Since we came here, her speech and vo­cab­u­lary

have pro­gressed at an in­cred­i­ble rate and we no longer need to use signs for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, al­though we chose to con­tinue be­cause we want her to learn. Phys­i­cally, too, she has come on in leaps and bounds and at nearly three she has now fi­nally mas­tered walk­ing up and down steps in­stead of crawl­ing up them. She can run and isn’t far off mas­ter­ing a jump with both feet off the ground. The most ex­cit­ing thing is how much bet­ter she is around hu­mans, par­tic­u­larly ones she doesn’t know. In­stead of dis­solv­ing into tears of panic when spo­ken to, she now only vaguely hides be­hind my legs while talk­ing to them. This is real progress.”

It is clear that Mil­lie is keen to hug and kiss the pigs and al­pacas, catch the baby lambs for cud­dles or — one of her favourite things — go into the bird pen and try to get the chick­ens to fly.

“This is phys­io­ther­apy at its best in a re­laxed, non-clin­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment which means that she is both achiev­ing and en­joy­ing,” Phil adds.

Sink or swim

The cou­ple ad­mits that they did feel a lit­tle in at the deep end when it came to man­ag­ing the an­i­mals, in par­tic­u­lar their first lamb­ing, but they fol­lowed that es­sen­tial small­hold­ing mantra ‘never be afraid to ask’ and sur­vived a Cae­sarean sec­tion, a case of fos­ter­ing and some tube feed­ing, all thanks to talk­ing to their lo­cal vet and en­gag­ing with others on the Cel­e­brat­ing Small­hold­ing UK Face­book page. Lamb­ing ended with all ewes and their off­spring in great health and so far their al­paca un­pack­ing is all go­ing to plan.

Be­fore their move, Brenda and Phil were aware of how iso­lat­ing small­hold­ing life can be at times. For many small­hold­ers, whole weeks can go by dur­ing which they don’t leave their prop­er­ties. While be­ing self-con­fessed her­mits, Brenda and Phil were de­ter­mined to make new friends as quickly as pos­si­ble, both for their own well­be­ing and for Mil­lie’s sake too. As a re­sult, they have al­ready built up a great rap­port with a near neigh­bour, Lucy, who, like them, is just start­ing out.

“Our con­nec­tion has been hugely ben­e­fi­cial to us both in that we are able to help each other with things that some­times we just don’t have enough hands for,” smiles Brenda. “We helped to fetch Lucy’s new chicken coop and, in time, she will get some chick­ens from us. When we were over­run with eggs be­cause we live on a quiet lane and they weren’t sell­ing, Lucy of­fered us the use of her gate­way to dis­play them. This proved re­ally suc­cess­ful and some­thing we are im­mensely grate­ful for. Be­yond the phys­i­cal help, there’s also the emo­tional sup­port —the times I ring her to have a rant about stuff, the times we share ad­vice and the things we’ve learnt can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated. This is the most help­ful bit for me be­cause this life can be quite lonely.”

Quest for self-de­vel­op­ment

The fu­ture is look­ing bright for Brenda, Phil and Mil­lie. The cou­ple plans to con­tinue to ex­pand the va­ri­ety of an­i­mals it of­fers for the ben­e­fit of cus­tomers.

“We would like to add ponies and don­keys to the clan and use them for pulling carts and work­ing with us, some­thing which I think would be hugely ben­e­fi­cial for our users to see,” says Brenda. “We also dream of a pond for the ducks and horses and goats. By the or­chard we plan to set up a huge veg­etable gar­den where our users can en­gage in hor­ti­cul­tural ther­apy, par­tic­u­larly those who are not keen to en­gage with the an­i­mals.”

Brenda adds that self-de­vel­op­ment will con­tinue to be the fo­cus of what she and Phil do. “That is largely be­cause the in­di­vid­u­als we cater for aren’t all the same and will never be so. Con­di­tions evolve, we are all dif­fer­ent and we must keep up with the changes so that what we of­fer re­mains valid and worth­while.”

Within weeks of mov­ing into a new small­hold­ing, Mil­lie was ‘like a dif­fer­ent child’ INSET With her par­ents

An­i­mals bring hap­pi­ness on the farm Mil­lie’s favourite place is the bird pen Phil and Brenda own 16 al­pacas as well as a small flock of Oues­sant sheep

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