My Holton Lee placement by Sarah Jane Milne

There are many aspects to Holton Lee which mean that there is no one way of describing it, however that is what makes it so attractive. Although the ambiguity of Holton Lee made it very hard for me to pack, I was very excited about the prospect of finding out first hand about the work there. On arriving at Holton Lee what first struck me was its tranquil location by the sea in Dorset, a perfect location for a charity which values the environment, inspires artistic creativity and encourages spiritual growth.

My first day I was met at the station by Ally one of the new site managers. Being new to the job Ally was full of enthusiasm about Holton Lee and was the perfect candidate for answering all my questions (ones that she herself was likely to have asked before starting the job.) Holton Lee is reached by driving down a long drive that passes the Farm houses, which are used as holiday retreats for its clients; as we passed them by Ally mentioned I would be cleaning them by means of introduction to them. Although cleaning toilets and vacuuming floors don't sound the most appealing of jobs, they are chores that I did regularly through out my placement and to be honest are ones I am not afraid to admit to having 'enjoyed' doing. Like the majority of the jobs I did on my placement it was quickly proven that 'a job shared is a job halved', so spending time with Ally and Sara (the site managers) Laura (a rank fellow) and Henry (the Hover) were not only painless but also entertaining.

I was greeted at the office by Tony Heaton, the Director, and his team of staff, all of whom were extremely welcoming. I was lucky enough to have arrived in time to meet Katy, a Rank fellow at the end of her two week placement, who was able to fill me in on what was what and who was who. Each day I had lunch in the Barn where guests needing carers stay. In a way helping out in the Barn is like being at home, helping with the cooking, cleaning and simply relaxing and caring for the guests.

Tony took us on the Mule to tour the site. Holton Lees' grounds consist of woodland, heath land and some fields, on which Tony daringly allowed us to drive the Mule! Although the grounds retain their natural wild beauty with deer and wild ponies roaming freely, I was soon to discover this does not come naturally. Conservation work is on going at Holton Lee, however it is only with the help of a wide range of volunteers from the Green Team to Kenyan boys, that the grounds can be managed. The Green Team are a group of volunteers (mostly retired) who come weekly to help out with any conservation work which needs doing and I was lucky enough to join them out in the sun. We were pulling up pines with the aim of returning the site to its natural heath land. Guests at Holton Lee are able to enjoy taking out Golf buggies to explore the grounds and visit the numerous bird watching huts. Although whizzing round the grounds on the buggies was great fun, the highlight for me was being taken out in the Riding for the Disabled horse and carriage.

Scattered through out the grounds are sculptures which have been specially commissioned for Holton Lee, often reflecting its environmental aspect. Respect for the environment is of great importance to Holton Lee and this is exemplified in its art work. Faith House is a new addition to Holton Lee and in itself is a piece of art. It is a beautiful exhibition house with a quiet room in which stand numerous tree trunks that stand ceiling to floor. Tony was aware of my fond interest in art therefore he was keen that I should see and get involved in as much as I could during my placement, therefore designating me with the task of taking down the present exhibition in preparation for the up coming Horse Show. Both local work and work produced on site is exhibited in Faith House. For example I spent an afternoon in the pavilion working with a group called "15 Days in Clay"; this was a group originally set up to teach the basics of pottery to a group of disabled people. However the work they produced was so successful that the group has continued and now they both exhibit and sell their work. The idea is something quite exceptional and has enabled these people to not only develop a new skill but also a portfolio. Their disabilities make their work something quite unique - for instance one lady with Down's syndrome joined her clay incorrectly; however this gave her work its characteristic beauty.

Disability Arts are of importance at Holton Lee. Recently they have had some of their old stables converted into art studios which they rent out to artists. The artists often work with their studio doors open which allowed me to go and observe and talk to the artists. One artist we helped was James Lake, an artist who works with cardboard constructing life size sculptures. James himself is a disabled artists and he was able to give me a real insight into the subject and how he feels Disability arts should be perceived. Laura and I were able to help James with his debut workshop. The majority of participants were disabled or had learning disabilities and this presented two challenges. The first was holding their attention and the second and most challenging was helping them without influencing them. Disability Arts is something very personal to Tony and so it came as no surprise to discover that Tony has undertaken to construct the first ever archive for Disability Arts. Laura and I were given the task of sorting through the material and archiving it.

The work I did throughout my placement was really varied and far from boring. One minute I could be in the office answering phones, the next I was cooking up steak and ale pie in the Barn. The main event was the Horse show. The majority of time prior to the event was spent working with Stewart preparing the grounds. Stewart has learning disabilities and communicates by signing but I soon got use to understanding him. Stewart offered to take us into Bournemouth and Poole so we spent the weekend having a guided tour of the local area and just chilling out. The Horse show itself was manic, flipping burgers like there was no tomorrow but at the same time it was a laugh and a half; then it was off to the pub to relax and celebrate that it was so successfully over.

Holton Lee was an amazing experience. It is really hard to explain it but the work that goes on is so varied that you cannot put it in a nut shell. Although I learnt a lot by getting involved and sitting in on meetings, such as the fundraising meetings, I think the most valuable thing I took from my two weeks was the people I met. As well as making friends, everyone I met, staff and guests included, had experience and advice to share. I would really recommend going to Holton Lee because it has an ethos that can just not be beaten and there is never a dull moment. A word of warning though, you better be good at making tea!

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