A farm that has been a lifeline for people with special needs for over 100 years is about to close.
North Kent College has confirmed that it will not renew its contract with Kent County Council (KCC) to manage Princess Christian Farm in Hildenborough, putting its future in doubt.
The 115-acre farm in Riding Lane was originally founded by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Christian, in 1910 and passed into the hands of KCC social services in 1984. But in 2009, the authority entrusted the management of the farm to Hadlow College.
The working farm regularly hosts around 25 adults every day, most of them with autism, but some with physical disabilities.
They learn to care for animals, which include pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens and even an emu, and they also learn horticulture, growing shrubs, hanging baskets and bedding plants, including many are sold in the farm store.
When Hadlow College struggled financially last year. It was saved from administration by North Kent College, but today North Kent said: “Former Hadlow College has contracted with Kent County Council to run adult day care facilities at Princess Christian’s Farm for several years.
“Now that the current arrangements are drawing to a close, North Kent College (as the new owners of Hadlow College) has made the difficult decision to focus our efforts on providing education rather than adult social care and we will therefore not make an offer to renew the current contract. “
The news came as a blow to the parents, who say they were told by staff that the farm would close in September, although they have not received any official notification that this is the case.
Andrew Dole from Maidstone has a 28 year old son with autism who lives in supportive housing at Aspens in Pembury.
Mr Dole said: âMy son has been attending Princess Christian Farm for seven years. He considers it his job.
âHe normally goes there three days a week – but only two during Covid.
“It gives him a purpose in life and he can’t wait to go.”
He said: “It’s going to be very difficult for him if it closes.
“He’ll take it personally and think it’s sort of his fault.
“People with autism need a regular routine and it will stress them out.”
Another young man from Tunbridge Wells, who suffers from autism and ADHD, has been attending the farm for six years. He said he would be “broken” if he couldn’t continue working with the animals.
He said: “I heard it was all about the money. KCC and North Kent College should come together and sort this out.”
An online petition has been set up to persuade KCC to keep the facility open.
It has already received more than 3,200 signatures.
Among those campaigning to keep it open are neighbors on the farm and parents of alumni.
Now we have a few comments from people, some of whom are happy to be named in the ad:
Celia Lawrence of News Ash Green said: “My son went to Princess Christian Farm when he was at Hadlow College to learn animal care.”
She said: âHe really enjoyed it. He has an internship elsewhere, but a lot of his friends are still going and it’s an amazing place.
“There aren’t many places in all of Kent that can offer animal experiences for the learning disability community after school / college is over.”
Trudi Giles from Tonbridge said: âI’m so bored about it. My son has been to Princess Christian Farm and the help and support he has received has been exceptional.
“He is now working full time but I am convinced that this is in part due to the support and encouragement he has received here.
âI would have liked the people who made this decision to attend the open house and see for themselves how exceptional the staff and students are doing.
Helena Horsman said: “I attended the last open house at the farm. This little place is amazing. The staff are very attentive and informative.
“You can see it’s their passion, not just a job.”
Christine Smith said, âMy son David goes to the farm two days a week and has been doing so for 22 years.
“He loves going to work, it gives him a purpose in life.
“The staff are brilliant and treat every student with respect.”
“He had a great opportunity to show the animals at the county shows and they won awards. It makes him really proud. It just seems unfair to take that away from them all.”
Jennie (who declined to give her last name) from Tonbridge said: “I work at a SEN school and our students access Princess Christian Farm as part of their work experience. It is a valuable resource. for them and they not only learn so much from going there, but I love it. Such a sad decision. “
A KCC spokesperson said: “North Kent College made the difficult decision to withdraw from other aspects that Hadlow College was previously involved in, many of which were no longer financially viable.”
He said: âNorth Kent College will work closely with KCC agents to maintain the provision at Princess Christian Farm until the end of September, or until alternative arrangements are found for each student.
“The needs of the people who use the farm remain our priority and therefore all possible future options for the supply are being explored.”
He said: “The termination of the current provision will be phased in over the next few months and we will work to ensure that all people receive support through KCC’s social care operational teams to find a suitable provision elsewhere if this turns out to be. necessary.”
KCC has confirmed that it is looking to find another supplier to contract for on-farm services.
The online petition is available here.
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