This information has
been extracted for the publication "The Story of Ferriers Barn by
The booklet with the full 20 pages, is available from Ferriers Barn
The history of Ferriers Barn is one of vision and persistent dedication
to an ideal, imagination and very hard work.
That this centre for young physically disabled people is such an undoubted
success is largely due to the efforts of Amanda and Christopher Robinson
who went to live at The Ferriers
in September 1970 with three donkeys, a pony and a growing family.
Set close to the Essex Suffolk border in a beautiful valley, Ferriers
had not only a big two-storey barn immediately behind the house, but also
a group of farm buildings down in the field below.
Amanda had been horrified to discover that locally there was little provision
for young physically disabled adults.
They were simply left sitting at home, experiencing the awful frustration
of 'Waiting for nothing to happen', they were being placed among
much older disabled people those with learning difficulties with whom
they had nothing in common.
With the idea of doing something to provide an activity centre for young
disabled adults, she approached a friend, the distinguished architect
Ronnie Geary from East Bergholt. There were too many complications with
the large barn behind the house, but he thought the buildings in the field
would prove ideal: the site was almost flat, the buildings surrounded
a courtyard, it was set well apart in its own little valley and there
was room for a car park.
There was much to achieve and obtain: research into access and design,
tenders from builders, local authority approval, establishing a committee
of concerned people and seeking donated material as well as financial
In fact it took nearly a year to get the plans drawn and the permission
for change of use agreed. During the year they visited all sorts of centres
and buildings for disabled people before settling on the simple plan which
had no areas not accessible to a wheelchair-user, wide doors, low light
switches and no change of level out into the courtyard garden.
Even the kitchen would be fully usable and accessible. The actual building
work took almost another year.
During this time a Council of Management
was formed and a huge team of volunteers - instructors, helpers, cooks,
cleaners and drivers
came into being.
Ronnie Geary was fired with enthusiasm and between them they managed to
get all the timber, the floor tiling, the complete kitchen, the sanitary
ware and other building materials and equipment completely free.
The Barn would indeed be functional. but it would also be beautiful and
Attitudes to Disability
At this time, in 1972, a Disability Bill was put through Parliament by
Alf Morris and Jack Ashley, who was himself profoundly deaf.
Suddenly the public became more aware of disability. But disable people
were still very much second-class citizens in their
wheelchairs could not negotiate the entrance to the Post Office. for example;
people didn't know how to talk to them or 'now to treat them; by the accident
of disability they had virtually no life, They were just left to manage
as best as they could.
Finances and Aid
The basic conversion of the buildings would involve a five figure sum
which Christopher Robinson was in a position to guarantee. They then had
to find the cost of fitting it out.
Duncan Hitchcox, a resident of Bures who was a Chartered Accountant working
for a bank and a member of the Round Table in Colchester, simply inspired
all his colleagues. They promised to campaign for funds to fit the kitchen
out with the best possible equipment. Ronnie Geary whose work included
creating new kitchens and canteens for firms in Colchester and Ipswich,
used his initiative to gather the old tables and chairs discarded by his
The Barn still has items of furniture that were not good enough for Ipswich
companies, but have served it well. Then the landlord of a
pub near Hartest, said he would hold a fund-raising event and the Barn
could spend the proceeds how it liked.
This suited the Board who did not want to be told what to do with gifts
It took eighteen months to acquire everything that was needed. People
were very generous. Parents, whose support was crucial, were delighted
to be involved. Of course they knew how to look after their offspring,
but they did not necessarily have the skills or space to teach them much
once they had left school.
This project seemed to be the answer to their prayers. The Colchester
and District Spastics Society backed the venture. There was a lot of free
labour and practical support. There was also huge goodwill and some cash.
'We have something you might need,' became a familiar opening remark.
The manager of the cheese factory in Bures sold the Barn its first van
A school donated looms and Members were able to copy Greek cushions and
shoulder bags brought back from holidays.
A printing press was a very exciting gift and provided a good source of
interest and income. Everyone involved with the Barn was very comfortable
with second-hand things, although special lavatories had to be built for
Dawn Peacock, a neighbour, had links with The Black Watch who were stationed
A three-week work camp was set up in the field for 26 IVS, workers from
six countries, eight of whom were themselves disabled.
They tackled the initial demolition of the buildings which could not be
Some disabled people came to paint and decorate - one man came every Saturday
One local farmer, Gordon Webber, brought his tractor down and took out
three foot of manure from where the office was to be located
The Barn was completed in 1973 and in February of the next year, the doors
were opened to the first six Members together with 28 regular volunteers.
At that time there were two residential centres in the neighbourhood run
by The Spastics Society: Oakwood Further Education Centre and Wakes Hall
in Wakes Colne.
Christopher went off to The Spastics Society, a national charity now called
Scope, and learned how to become a professional fund-raiser. He became
aware of the needs of the disabled people with whom he came in daily contact.
It gradually became clear to him what their aspirations were.
Many, though physically incapable, were highly intelligent, he decided
that for Ferriers Barn the best people would be found to instruct Members
in doing the things that they wanted to do, activities that would be both
interesting and fulfilling; the Barn certainly would not impose a regime
on these young people who were all in their early twenties.
It would not merely provide a therapy, it would give them an opportunity
For this purpose two bright and articulate young men, Ken Smith and Dick
Harris, who were also physically very incapacitated were invited to be
They drew up various plans and promised to come and school up instructors.
They also devised schemes of work, which included pottery, painting and
weaving. which were designed to be within the constraints of the various
disabilities of the Members.
The six founding Members were all able to find something to do that they
were good at.
Perhaps the biggest on-going problem is that everything takes much longer
than usual to achieve or complete and this is always borne in mind. But
empathy developed between the helpers, instructors and Members. It is
significant that this term was used from the beginning.
Everyone learned a great deal and was able to respond to Members' needs.
The latter were to run as much of the centre themselves as
possible and to have a say in all aspects of administration, daily running,
care and catering, as well as the activities and instruction provided.
Some Encountered Problems
Christopher Robinson tells a wonderful story about a time when things
might have been considered to be at rather a low ebb. He and Duncan Hitchcox
were opening the day's correspondence together; inside was a massive bill
from Shell for £250 to fill up with oil, and it was winter!
Christopher was emphatic, that they would just have to open for fewer
days; he was not going to close the Barn down.
Almost immediately they received a cheque for £1000 from an anonymous
donor and so they were able to pay the bill. They thanked the Lord and
to this day it is not known from whom the cheque came.
From time to time there are other financial problems. For example, every
four or five years the Barn has to have a new ambulance which gets used
twice a day, every day.
If for some reason it breaks down, there is a major problem with people
left waiting, unable to be collected.
At the time of writing about half the money needed for a new one had been
raised. But one crucial source announced that, because of the lack of
performance on the stock market, it was going to halve its contribution
from £10000 to £5000.
This inevitably caused concern.
However the Barn has been very fortunate in being able to establish an
endowment fund so it can use some of its savings. The ambulance would
be delivered on time and the fund will be topped up again by local support
on Open Days and similar events.
A key to the Barn`s success is that it has always been independent. ln
the early days Social Services actually had no responsibility for young
disabled people. Nor indeed had the State, once they had been educated.
One particular social worker came to the Barn to help because he had knowledge
and experience, but he did not represent any organisation.
He was able to advise the Board about what little help could be obtained
from the Social Services.
Now it is different and help is available. but there has never been a
member of the Board of Management representing a local authority and telling
them what they might or might not do.
There is now good support from both Essex and Suffolk: people come from
Essex who are sponsored for so many days at the Barn which arranges to
collect them from home, the local authority giving a sum to allow them
to get the full service.
Suffolk is equally efficient on transport with people traveling from Ipswich
and Bury. Overall the Barn find fifty per cent of its expenditure (coming
from its own supporters) and the other fifty comes from local authorities
and statutory bodies.
There is no actual limit to the area from which Members are taken, but
most come from Within a 25-mile radius including Bury, the other side
of Ipswich, Colchester and Braintree - no one wants to travel for more
than 45 minutes.
This was extracted using
OCR software, so there may well be grammatical errors