We are a small group with specialist skills and big ambitions but no government funding. Since 2014, we have had an idea to create a retreat for disadvantaged young people and their families, for rest and renewal.
Our mission reflects our passion for working with young people, pushing the boundaries of educational practice to unleash the potential of those who experience barriers to their learning: challenging the myths of ability and disability and defying expectations. We are tenacious in promoting the rights, needs and aspirations of socially disadvantaged and vulnerable students and committed to making a difference to their life chances, underpinned by a belief that every child matters.
Our focus is on young people who feel they are struggling to succeed in our education system - who are vulnerable to low-attainment and who are in danger of becoming a ‘lost-learner’ by refusing to attend school, and/or to being excluded - since prospects for those who leave school without good grades are bleak. For instance, the consequences for young people who are excluded from school are reported to be poverty, loneliness and social isolation, alcohol and substance misuse, poor mental health, homelessness, the criminal justice system and even suicide. Since the number of permanent exclusions in South Wales has increased by 51% since 2015/16, the problem is persistent.
Many of these young people may not meet the criteria for receiving help from Children's Services but need the extra and long-term support, which schools often do not have the capacity to deliver - whereas, we do.
Our activities are underpinned by evidence that these young people also experience dysfunctional family or foster situations that are often a reflection of their parents/carers suffering wider problems, such as family breakdown, poor mental and physical health, bereavement, trauma, substance abuse, lack of employment or financial difficulties and poverty.
It is our intention to provide a safe and tranquil retreat for young people and their families, to have the time and space to be together to find a way through their difficulties, within a compassionate and loving community, where their stories are listened to and their voices are heard. Their stay may be a day, a weekend or a week at a time, and may be as many times until they no longer feel the need for support. During their visits, they will have access to bespoke personal development coaching and appropriate health and wellbeing therapies. An important part of their long-term programme of support involves engagement in positive and purposeful activities together, which include education, creative arts and holiday activities, as well as opportunities for horticulture and to commune with nature in the surrounding beautiful countryside. In addition, everyone will be encouraged to participate in the stewardship and conservation of the manor house and its gardens, where encouraging care about local heritage is integral to awareness of identity, healing family relationships and building capability to overcome difficulties.
Our innovative strategy is an alternative contribution to the way our society is dealing with the disengagement of disadvantaged young people and to eradicating the attainment gap in education, as we tackle the problem at one of its root causes: young people in dysfunctional family situations out of their control. By working together with the parents/carers of our young people, fostering relationships and nurturing their own personal empowerment and improved wellbeing, we hope they will increase their confidence and capacity to support their children both at home and at school. The outcomes are that their children re-engage with their school and are better able to attain their academic potential and personal aspirations, and all their family will enjoy increased life chances with enhanced opportunities to participate in education, employment and society in general.
It is also our hope that the young people and their families return as volunteers and become part of building a network of sustainable support for families in the area, where our retreats are a hub for the local community. Integral to this is a bridging partnership with schools as through our outreach work we bring about systemic change in education, catalysing a more family orientated schools: involving parents more fully in their children’s learning, and schools being wholehearted in their community outlook.
It is our intention to ensure we have young people aged 16-25 represented on our board of trustees, and part of the leadership of the organisation.
Our Heritage Home
Plas Llanmihangel is a nationally important heritage building. It is a 12th Century mansion located within the rural hamlet of Llanmihangel, within a medieval settlement conservation area. In the grounds is a rare late C17th Pleasure Garden, listed grade II in the Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Interest in Wales, as well as a set of Queen Anne steps, also listed grade II.
Castle like in its presentation, Plas Llanmihangel has a tower and walls six feet thick in places; there are huge open fireplaces, one with a beehive bake oven, and impressive oak-panelled rooms. The interior of strongly Elizabethan and William and Mary character remains remarkably preserved. The magnificent medieval hall is accessed by a substantial stone stair, and is distinguished as having the finest surviving late Elizabethan decorative plasterwork ceiling in Glamorgan, along with the C19 fleur-de-lys plaster ceiling in the master bedroom. There is a latrine shute with part original oak seat.
This property has been uninhabited since January 2018. The outcome of the project is the rescue of one of Wales’ oldest homes and, rather than let it fall into the hands of private residents, restore it to a comfortable family home to be shared with its wider community; including a diverse range of people who would not normally experience a stay in historic accommodation. It will provide opportunities for both local employment, giving it an economic value in this rural area, and a high level of volunteering, encouraging social interaction and promoting wellbeing.
The historical and inherent spirituality of Plas Llanmihangel, and its perfect tranquil setting deep in Glamorgan countryside, lends itself to this development as a retreat. However, it does require substantial refurbishment and some restoration; we will be applying to the National Lottery Enterprise fund and other grant-making bodies.
Connection to Purpose CIO’s model is based on similar social enterprises: retreat venues that supplement their income with holiday letting; also, third sector organisations that work with local authorities who use their services for families in crisis, such as the highly successful Longmead Community Farm, in Dorset, and the renown Jamie’s Farms. Once Plas Llanmihangel is established, the CIO would seek to operate in other areas of the UK.