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Words: Paul Chapman. Images: HARP

High Ashes Rural Project (HARP) is a place that changes lives, a farm on the edge of Chesterfield that offers a wide and varied range of training and experiences. They allow people of any level to develop skills they never knew they had and give them the confidence to share these skills and their time with others.

Much of their time is spent supporting people with learning difficulties in an outdoor environment for the improvement of people's, health, social, mental, and economic wellbeing.

It’s a bright sunny day as I sit with Phil and Vanessa Coates, and Stuart the very cute, VERY noisy and extremely friendly cockerel they’ve just adopted, to learn a bit more about what goes on at HARP, on High Ashes Farm, Highashes Lane in Ashover.

Phil grew up on the farm with his mum and dad and disabled uncle George who was learning impaired, “I never thought of George as being disabled, he was simply George, my uncle, we grew up together and did stuff you do as a family, skills you need to run a farm such as driving a tractor from a very young age,” says Phil.

Vanessa’s brother James had language issues so from an early age she found herself teaching him to speak. Perhaps it’s these caring environments within the family setting that have resulted in the pair running HARP and being so supportive with those who come along each day.

Both have worked away from the farm, in sales, marketing, insurance services and various other jobs before realising that the farm is in an idyllic setting, their lifestyle didn’t allow them enough time on it and they needed a change.

They started concentrating their time on the farm and James, Vanessa's brother came up to help out each day, this got them thinking. “What James did helped him, he loved it and we wondered if more people might benefit from time outdoors helping on the farm,” says Vanessa.

In January 2014 they set up HARP, established some clear goals and set themselves up as a Community Interest Company focusing on people with learning difficulties and those needing mental health support.

“The first thing we did was transform a 10-acre field that wasn’t suitable for farming back to woodland by planting 6000 British native trees. These are now well established, and we use the willow and hazel for projects we run,” says Phil. Ed: I can confirm that the mud run they hold each year goes through this woodland and makes a lovely part of the diverse route the run takes.

The mud run forms an important element of the HARP funding together with funds associated with each attendee and crowd funding that they use at various times to enable projects to be kicked off on the farm.

The farm also has a shepherd’s hut and two permanent tents with outdoor kitchen areas and seating which make perfect glamping spots for families to rent out throughout the summer. The site has toilets and showers and reading the reviews visitors love spending time next to the duck pond and meeting the pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens, and rabbits that roam the site … not forgetting Stuart the cockerel, after all it is an 80-acre working farm!

Phil is a member of the Derbyshire Dry Stone Walling Association and runs courses on the farm. “We run the DSW courses for the participants plus we have groups come in to learn stone walling, anyone wanting to pick up the skills can come along, last weekend we have a group of 20 people. It’s always a great weekend when we have these courses, people gather in the outdoor kitchen between sessions and have a fun time whilst learning a new skill, both myself and Ness are qualified tutors,” says Phil.

“HARP is about getting people to be the best they can,” explains Phil. “We help build confidence and self-esteem and treat each individual with kindness and respect, hopefully bringing peace and contentment.

“If you look at what we do, we’re worse off financially after dropping out of our 9 to 5 lives but we are so much happier, it was a lifestyle change and we wouldn’t change a thing.”

If you want to volunteer at HARP or know someone who might benefit from their support just give them a call or drop them an email.

And it’s not just DSW courses they do, they have developed a range of cookery courses covering preparation of healthy meals using local produce, they offer a course in foraging and are looking to establish children's bushcraft parties in a secluded field, a 100% natural environment. If you'd like to help support their work you can do so by taking part in the family friendly 5 and 10k mud run, next date is Sunday 23 October 2022.

Thanks to Phil and Vanessa for their time and I can’t wait to road test the glamping field in a few weeks’ time… happy to be Guinea pigs!

E: info


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