A smallholding in Friskney set up by a couple who wanted to escape the rat race is opening its doors next month to the public and those interested in using it for medicinal purposes.

Hannah and Chris Blevins are taking the next steps in developing The Askefield Project on their Peter’s Eden farm.

The project involves the creation of a ‘care farm.’ Care farms provide health, social or educational care services for individuals from vulnerable groups, including people with mental health problems and depression, learning disabilities, disaffected young people and people on probation.  The concept of such ‘green prescriptions’ is rising in popularity across the country with medical professionals advising social and farm experiences and all the activity, interaction and fresh air that offers in place of or alongside drugs and antidepressants.

Hannah (43) and Chris (47) – a motorsport engineer – originally established the farm ten years ago to create a new lifestyle for themselves and their three boys, Peter (now aged 17), Joel (15) and Noah (13) and opportunities to spend more time together as a family.

Since then they have frequently sought out opportunities to use the farm as a way to engage with the community and see developing it into a care farm as an opportunity to help more people.

The couple has been working with Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS) to develop strategies for development, make connections with organisations that may be able to use its services and access vital training, such as courses in adult safeguarding and finding funding.

Hannah said: “I think I just feel if we have got something to offer people that can help them I will do it. Our philosophy in life, and that we have tried to offer our children, is try to be the person that makes a difference.”

In the past the couple has worked with North Sea Camp, offering prisoners at the end of their sentence opportunities to work on the farm and learn to reintegrate into society. The prisoners would share meals with the family in their home and be trusted to undertake independent projects on the  farm. Hannah says it is one of the most rewarding things she has ever been involved with.

She said: “Of course we had reservations. If you had asked me ten years ago my opinion on prisoners it would be completely different to now, but if you believe in rehabilitation you have to believe this is the right thing to do.

“With the prisoners, actually seeing them develop and change and knowing they weren’t going to go back to what they were doing before was so rewarding. Probably the most rewarding thing we have done. We’re still in touch with many of them.

“My children have benefited too. They believe in second chances and will accept people knowing it doesn’t matter what they have done in the past.

“We did some work with the Princes Trust and I wanted to take all those young people into our house and keep them forever. They flourished with a bit of support and guidance.”

The couple would foster children if they had more space in their three-bedroom home.

They have, over the years, given free lodging in exchange for help on the farm to dozens of students and individuals through the WWOOF scheme. With little opportunity to vet people in advance of their arrival, Hannah said that was actually far more precarious at times than taking the prisoners, who could be removed from the farm in 15 minutes had any concern ever arisen, not that it did.

With the students, Hannah said there were occasions when individuals arrived and it was immediately obvious they weren’t going to easily fit in.

She said: “We’ve had people from all over the world, a real variety of people. Some good, some not so good, but we’ve met some amazing people.”

The concept of care farming was brought to their attention by a volunteer who came to the farm facing battles with mental health issues and found it a soothing and positive environment.

Hannah said: “I think from our work with people facing mental health issues has really taught us that our non-judgemental acceptance can make such a difference.

“If people come here and they need to spend that day just cuddling a lamb that’s what they can do.

“We have seen that not putting pressure on people and allowing them to do things at their own pace can help them come on so much. I would love to be able to offer that to others.

“We heard about care farming and really it just put a name to what we’d already been doing.”

Meet the new lambs at open days

Meet the lambs at Askefield Project open day

The farm, in Howgarth Lane, which is home to sheep, a donkey, pony, goats, geese, chickens, ducks and often pigs, will be open, for a donation, to families and visitors to look around and enjoy refreshments and activities, between 10am and 4pm on Wednesday, April 12. Lambing season will be under way!

On Thursday, April 20, a more targeted open day will be held for people interested in volunteering, getting involved or taking up care farm services.

Hannah is keen to help promote the services of LCVS, which provides support, advice and training to community groups as well as helping to source volunteers. She has been working closely with LCVS officer Joe Blissett.

She said: “Joe has an immense amount of knowledge and contacts and has put us in touch with so many people.

“The training was also incredibly useful. I had no idea about filling in grant applications and discovered things like, 80 per cent of applications are thrown out for stupid, avoidable  reasons.

“We were given so much information, all of it vital.”