A new multi-million-pound farm experience centre and lodge park in County Durham that will create jobs and work experience opportunities for young adults with special needs will go ahead after planners gave it the green light.
The move will see a new barn building constructed on a site at Woodlands Park Farm in Knitsley near Consett together with nine holiday lodges for rental, which will be specially designed to accommodate families who have a family member with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
In addition, a further 27 lodges will be available for sale where the purchasers will have the option to adapt their own living space to their specific needs.
The £5m investment will include a 410 sq. m agricultural style barn building featuring chill/sensory rooms, an art and craft room, meeting rooms, indoor play areas, a café and accessible toilets, including a changing places WC.
These will be constructed to blend into the existing landscape while exterior areas will allow visitors to interact with farm animals while a petting area will feature small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs.
A nature trail through existing woodland will also go ahead together with a car park for 50 spaces including a min of 12 disabled bays and a turning area for coaches to pick up/drop off.
There will be a range of holiday lodge sizes equipped to provide improved accessibility for people with mobility issues with dedicated car parking spaces.
A lodge for the project manager is also planned together with site landscaping, highways access and drainage features including ponds.
Research indicates that people with special needs can benefit significantly from interacting with farm animals and HAYSTAX at Woodlands Park Farm will be a much-needed resource that people from across the UK can benefit from to improve their lives.
In County Durham, an estimated 14% of pupils in the education system have special education and disability needs, while across England and Wales, 1 in 6 people have activity limiting health problems or disability.
The proposed facility, which will cater for those living with mental health problems, dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including former armed services personnel, will generate the equivalent to eight full-time roles plus several work experience posts for young adults with special needs.
Director of North East planning consultants Hedley Planning Services, Joe Ridgeon, who oversaw the planning application, said: “The planners have seen the benefits that this unique farm experience will bring, so we are delighted that the project has been approved.
“It will contribute significantly to the well-being and life experience of hundreds of disadvantaged and disabled people; undoubtedly having a significant impact on their lives and families for years to come.”
Ian Adamson of Woodlands Park Farm said: “This project is hugely important to so many families. We have had many letters from families who have taken the time to write and tell us how much our project would mean to them, for which we are hugely grateful. This level of support has motivated us to continue with our vision.
“There is a huge need for this type of service, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to be able to provide a quiet and restful environment, where families can enjoy the beautiful countryside that we have in the Vale of Durham, no matter what the weather may bring.”