By Bethan Davies, Fundraiser, Ruskin Mill Trust
We couldn’t have asked for better weather, as the sun shone brightly on a beautiful spring day at Clervaux, for a last-minute visit from a high-profile guest.
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Richmond was due to officially open our newly built Fold Family Centre and Rise adult social care provision in March 2020, however as we all know, the world descended into the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns put a stop to all events. Disappointment was paramount among the Clervuax staff who had worked so tirelessly to get the Fold up and running for 2020.
However, true to his word, Rishi paid us a visit a little over a year on. With the confirmation coming on Tuesday, and the visit due on Friday afternoon, there was little time to spare and everyone on site was abuzz with the pending visit.
Rishi arrived at Clervaux at 1.15pm, and was met by Robert Grice, Executive Principal of the Garden School, Helen Kippax, RMT Senior Executive Mentor and Clervaux Trustee, Janine Christley, Director of Fundraising and James Fearnley, Clervaux Trustee. Lt Colonel Andy Black from Catterick Garrison came along, a key player in the Fold’s journey and a great supporter. In addition, Hazel Bright, from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund was there to see the wonderful results their previous grant making had made locally.
Flanked by diligent security, but nevertheless relaxed, open and attentive, Rishi enjoyed a tour of the Garden School, complete with meeting some of Clervaux’s young students and oldest furry residents. A brief history of how the Clervaux site originated, how it has grown, and the progress that has been made in the last 18 months was all included.
A whistle-stop introduction was given to PSTE, as we walked a across the land, through the busy bee hives up to the Fold. Here we were met by Chris Helliwell and Garden School student Harry, with Harry helping give the tour around the outdoor workshop spaces and barn, and bottle feed the lambs with Rishi and Gilberto.
The new greenwood work shelter funded by the Veterans Foundation saw a lot of action, with Rishi getting to grips with a pole lathe, focus, grasp and step. Meanwhile Veterans who have been accessing recent funded activity programmes through North Yorkshire County Council and Veteran’s Woodcraft project showcased their stools, dibbers and spoons. Conversation opened up around the struggles the Veterans have had previously, how real-time activities such as this felt like a life line after lockdown. Wives and partners were also invited to enjoy the therapeutic space, animals and refreshments. Special thanks to Veteran Lee Bullivant for taking some lovely professional photos for us on the day.
Lone Helliwell, the Fold Centre Manager and the true heart and soul and driving force of the whole project, was delighted to round off Rishi’s one-hour visit, which flew by, with the cutting of the wool ribbon in the entranceway of the Fold. Then inside the Fold building, with an atmosphere of warm joviality, Lone presented Rishi with an honorary 3-legged stool and beautiful Clervaux veg box. Finally, before he had to dash off, cups of tea and scones were enjoyed outside whilst admiring the new baby goats and children’s play area.
What a perfect way to mark a new chapter of the Fold, looking towards the future with positivity and openness, away from pandemics and lockdowns. This small event finally realised the true vision for the Fold; to enable social cohesion and build bridges among marginalised members of our local community. As students, staff, beneficiaries, funders and politicians alike came together, unified through craft and land.