Milestones at Natural Ability

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Natural Ability is a local success story in the charitable organisation sector. An important milestone was marked last month, as the charity attended the 2019 North East Charity Awards as a short-listed Finalist for the Uniquely North East award, which it duly received! This success was reported in the Hexham Courant, reminding me that it’s high time the diary profiles this impressive organisation.

Although its website is lovely, the group appears to concentrate its social media time on its facebook updates, as these pages are full of contemporary activities. So what does Natural Ability actually do?

Although it’s hard to get much more succinct than the group’s website logo/tagline, it’s also difficult to describe all of the varied emphases: essentially, Natural Ability offers opportunities with a specific physical remit, to people with different abilities and personal challenges. These opportunities range from outdoor activities, like working with the local farming community, to helping with assisted living throughout Tynedale. The group seems to be ultra-responsive to the needs and interests of its clients, who encompass young adults and older folks dealing with dementia-related capacities. Day-farming tasks occupy much of these functions. These activities are carefully risk-managed, so that people with different needs can appreciate a sense of meaningful work and also some autonomy.

I chatted yesterday with Janice Walker, now the Business Development Manager, but who was a co-founder of the group with Annie Evans, and with Louise Northwood, Day Services Manager, in their offices in Hexham, to which the group moved in May. Although they’d loved the Forge Studio, and their presence in the centre of the village, they just outgrew the space! Some 10 staff people occupy the current offices. Indeed, the group is nearing the million pound mark in annual turnover. The organisation’s growth is compelling: from launch in 2009 as a charity and a company limited by guarantee with 1 or 2 clients supporting Hexham’s Priory School outreach programme; the group now assists some 25 individuals in contributive work; employing around 48 staff (half of whom are deeply involved in supporting the independent/assisted living of some 8 clients in 5 houses in Hexham, privately rented by the people who live there); through nearly a decade now of support from the National Lottery, and a recent grant from the Lloyds Foundation; to becoming this year’s recipient of the Uniquely NorthEast Award!

Hexham, our local market town, is ideally placed, with its extensive array of activities and services, like Core Furniture, the Torch Centre, Molly Moo’s and the Tans Café, to help differently abled people live a natural life.

But in Allendale and the local area, Natural Ability cooperates with gardeners at Sinderhope Community Centre and Staward Manor as well as with various projects developed by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and some 4 or 5 local farms. Janice and Louise reminded me that the Day Service has two branches: the day farming component and the handypersons’ service under the direct supervision of Dave Rosbotham. To help in these services, the workers have been kindly assisted by Homebase in Hexham with donations of plants and paints. Lately the group have been hard at work tidying around the grounds of the Sparty Lea Methodist Chapel. The workers get about in their minibus and service van, so that jobs as varied as a new access ramp at Sinderhope Community Centre, or groundwork at St. Mary’s School in Hexham, are conveniently accommodated.

Both of these daytime activities and services can be availed by individuals or organisations, and often are. The best way to contact the coordinators is by telephone as listed on their website, or through their facebook page. It really is true that mutual support among organisations in the voluntary sector can elicit a kind of synergistic growth for all. Another component of Natural Ability’s offerings is what they call their ‘enabling service’ which helps other adults who aren’t able to get out independently to go shopping, walking, or participate in social activities.

So it’s a kind of rite of passage, really, to enjoy the success of organisations like Natural Ability (which was fulsomely supported, Janice remembers, by local groups like the Allendale Lions, in the early days), which started here in these valleys, and to applaud them as they go on from strength to strength.

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