Building Society grant helps vulnerable students connect with nature

Building Society grant helps vulnerable students connect with nature

Published: 25 November 2021

The Society’s 5% Pledge has donated almost £15,000 to the Clervaux Trust to build a Shepherd Hut classroom this month.

Clervaux Trust offers day and residential placements for youngsters with autism and a range of other neurodiverse conditions.  And thanks to the £14,610 grant the Trust’s Garden School – based on the outskirts of Darlington – is to be enhanced with the addition of the shepherd’s hut.

The Trust runs an innovative curriculum – ‘Practical Skills and Therapeutic Education’ – that comprises traditional crafts, such as felting, weaving, greenwood work, blacksmithing, pottery, horticulture, animal husbandry and social enterprise, alongside registered therapies.

Robert Grice, principal at the school, said: “Our connection to the community is crucial, and it’s wonderful when an organisation like Darlington Building Society, that’s so embedded in the local area, takes such an interest in what we do. The shepherd’s hut will provide us with invaluable extra space, so it’s a fantastic boost.”

The shepherd’s hut, which will be equipped with all the necessary materials, furniture, and a log-burning stove, will overlook a field of sheep, which will provide the wool for the textiles to be made.

The students get to shear the sheep, dye the fleece, and spin it into yarn before making a range of textiles, including felted mats and slippers, weavings, wall hangings, book marks and cushion covers.

“It’s all about making that connection to nature, and helping our young people engage with the world in a healthy way,” explained Helen Kippax, deputy chair of the UK-wide Ruskin Mill Trust, which oversees the work at Clervaux.

“Everything we do links back to our training programme. We are working towards employment skills, but the main priority is to help the students to develop as human beings in the most natural ways possible.”

Bethan Davies, fundraiser for the Trust, added: “Many funding streams closed down during the pandemic, so this generous grant from Darlington Building Society is so important, and will make a massive difference.”

The Society’s Chief Executive, Andrew Craddock, visited Clow Beck Farm with his wife, Gill, to see first-hand how the Trust is transforming lives.

He said: “It really is inspiring to see how the money donated through the Society’s 5% Pledge can have such a positive impact on the lives of young people. We are thrilled to have enabled the purchase of the shepherd’s hut to go ahead, and we look forward to coming back to see how the textile classes are progressing.”

The Garden School opened in January 2020 and will be at capacity by December this year with 20 students aged 10-19. The Trust is now applying for an additional ten students.

The shepherd’s hut is expected to be built over the Christmas holidays, ready for the students to start using it early in the New Year.

For more information about the Clervaux Trust visit:

For more information about the 5% Pledge visit: