Council gives young gardeners a head start in the job market

13 June 2018

“Does that mean I’m a man now?”

This was Chris Jones’ response when he found out he had been given a job at Bridge Community Farm in Ellesmere Port.

The honest reaction of the 20-year-old with learning difficulties from Saughall moved many people to tears that had been backing Chris in his search for a better life, especially his manager Clair Johnson.

Clair said: “Chris’s parents were concerned that Chris would have difficulties getting employment but I am glad that we have been able to work with the Council to do that. Chris’ mum absolutely screamed down the phone, she was overjoyed.”

Chris said: “My job is to sort out the plants and vegetables. I have my own poly tunnel which has vegetables and strawberries. We sell them at the markets. The Council helped me to get a job here and my mentor supported me while I settled in. It made feel so excited and happy when I got the job here and I was impressed with myself.”

Chris was involved in Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Work Choice scheme. It offers employment support for adults with disabilities and long term health conditions. The Council team is able to help employers recruit staff with additional needs by supporting them to make adjustments in the work place and to raise awareness with wider staff in how to support their new colleague. The new employees are mentored, including on the job training to help them succeed in their new role. 

Matthew Wilkinson has recently started working on the farm as part of the scheme and his life has changed hugely as a result. 

The 22-year-old from Ellesmere Port said: “From the age of six, I was bullied so it took a toll on me. For a long time I would just sit in bed and watch the day go by.

“I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning and now, coming here, I am finding it easier everyday. I am happy the Council is helping me to work here because I love my job.”

Ryan Sims, 21, from Blacon, started working at the farm two years ago and struggled with confidence at first. He had never been on a bus on his own before starting this job so the team at the farm supported him over eight weeks to give him the skills to use public transport and to make his own way to work.

He said: “On the bus I found it quite hard to know where to stop and how to get on and how to get off a bus myself. Now it is very good, I know my way around.” 

Clair said: “The first day Ryan came on his own, he skipped through the gate and I was in a meeting at the front here and he had me in floods of tears, he said I’ve done it, I‘ve done it, are you proud?

“It has changed his life completely. It has changed him for the better because now he has got independence.”

Ryan has improved so much since then and he has been able to secure a permanent job at the farm after his funding period ended. Ryan added: “I go to the Countess of Chester Hospital market on a Wednesday and have been doing that for a year. We sell fruit and veg that are grown at the farm and we do really well at the Countess because we get a load of customers there.

“I was very surprised when I started working here because I didn’t expect to get the job here so fast. I was made up for myself to get the job and I was proud. I worked hard and didn’t expect to get a job out of it.”

Clair said: “They are all good lads who come here and I don’t think they would thrive as well as they have unless we had the Council willing to support them and give them the nudge in the right direction.

“The farm here is fantastic, we have 12 acres of land so we can work a space if people aren’t good in groups. They can work individually or can work in a group. There is so much that goes on here. There are activities galore for old and young. We predominantly deal with adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues.

“I would encourage anyone that gets a chance to work with the Council’s Work Zone in Ellesmere Port just to do it. Take the first step, that is the most difficult part, but take it because there is so much help available to build confidence, experience, skills and knowledge. It will do you the world of good.”

Cllr Louise Gittins, Cabinet Member for Communities and Wellbeing, said: “It can be difficult for people with learning difficulties to secure employment, despite the fact that people have many skills and qualities to offer organisations.

“The Council’s Work Choice Scheme has given people vital support on their road to a successful life by supporting employers to get to know the person and discover first-hand the skills and qualities they offer.”

The Council has just launched a new Local Supported Employment Service to continue this work supporting the employment of adults with learning disabilities or mental health issues so if there are employers in west Cheshire who want to get involved in supported employment or people who are looking for this type of employment support for themselves or a family member, contact

Chris Jones at Bridge Community Farm, Ellesmere Port
Chris Jones at Bridge Community Farm, Ellesmere Port 

Matthew Wilkinson
Matthew Wilkinson

Ryan Sims
Ryan Sims

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