Ampleforth Plus is one of six social enterprise businesses set up by Yorkshire based charity, Autism Plus. The Autism Plus ethos is to support people with disabilities on a ‘whole life’ basis to gain more control over their lives - somewhere to live, access to a job, the right support, holidays, leisure and sport activities are pre-requisites to leading a normal and healthy life.
Autism Plus is seeking to create unique, vibrant and welcoming environments, where adults with autism and associated disabilities are given the opportunity to experience work in real life commercial businesses. We are creating businesses to teach transferrable skills to prepare for the future, while at the same time individuals are helping create and develop successful enterprises that they can feel part of.
Our aim is to set up a series of commercially viable social enterprises that satisfy the demand for a bespoke range of products and services: predominantly factory, workshop and horticulture based. Whilst establishing the brands locally, including supplying the Ampleforth Abbey Estate, some of the enterprises will go on to have a national presence, supplying UK based corporate clients.
Our key objective is to secure employment for co-workers either within the enterprise or within the local business community. Each enterprise is designed in such a way as to present a variety of roles that require different levels of ability. This enables individuals to access meaningful employment that fits with their level of ability.
We must express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Ampleforth Abbey Trust for the provision of the land, the premises, donation of Chocolate making equipment and support in making the project happen - from the seed of an idea that has grown into reality.
In 2012 Philip Bartey, Group Chief Executive of Autism Plus began discussions with Henry and Mary Scrope, parents of William who has autism. The discussions were around a shared vision of supporting disabled people into work. It was this vision that was presented to the Ampleforth Abbey Trust later that year, where a partnership emerged and further discussions began around how to engage with the local community and provide opportunities for disabled people currently not in work.
February 2015. Left to right: Mary Clare Scrope, Philip Bartey and Henry Scrope
I am deeply grateful to Henry and Mary Scrope who have been a driving force in creating the vision and opportunity at Ampleforth. Their boundless energy, passion, encouragement and enthusiasm has no bounds. I would also wish to thank The Ampleforth Abbey Trust for their immense support in getting this important project off the ground. We have recruited a first class team to ensure we deliver high quality services and employment support for autistic and disabled people. Philip Bartey, Group Chief Executive - Autism Plus
The Abbey Trust owned a collection of redundant farm buildings which they agreed to lease to Autism Plus on a 99-year peppercorn lease, along with an adjacent five-acre field. In return we agreed to refurbish the buildings and bring them back into use, by establishing a number of social enterprise businesses in the buildings and on the land, to produce goods and services which the Abbey and college committed to purchasing. The refurbishment work was divided into two phases: phase one commenced in August 2014 and reached completion in June 2015. We are currently fundraising for phase two.
Phase 1 - commenced August 2014
Creating Ampleforth Plus began with a set of derelict farm buildings on the Ampleforth estate which were carefully renovated into the Chocolate factory along with five acres of land for the horticulture project - Beanstalk Gardens. By the Summer of 2015 we were preparing the land for growing, creating bespoke Chocolate orders and hosting our first workshops in Chocolate. We were excited to begin inviting individuals with disabilities to gain experience working in both the horticulture project and the Chocolate factory.
In July 2015 we successfully launched the Chocolate business at The Great Yorkshire Show, selling a range of products and introducing ourselves to a host of potential retail, corporate and wholesale customers. Feedback was excellent with nothing but praise for the quality of the Chocolates. We were extremely fortunate to be given space within the pavilion hosted and run by the North Yorkshire West Federation of the Women's Institute. Our Skills and Training Chocolatier, Linda Jameson, made an amazing Chocolate plaque to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the WI, which we presented during the show. Another prestigious presentation at the show involved one of our co-workers, along with Andrew Thwaite, Head Chocolatier, and HRH Prince Charles who was delighted to receive a bespoke box of Ampleforth Plus Chocolates.
In the autumn of 2015, we were awarded grants from the Woodland Trust and the Howardian Hills AONB Project Fund to purchase 1,740 trees and hedging plants to screen the field. We are in the process of creating 30, 20m x 3m allotment style plots which will, in time, allow ownership to co-workers who wish to grow their own crops and aid progression into employment. Grass paths around the plots are, at 1.5m wide, suitable for wheelchair access.
By the end of 2015 we had successfully built a solid base of wholesale and corporate customer across Yorkshire and beyond with sales far exceeding our initial expectations and predictions. The first half of 2016 has seen us going from strength to strength with the acquisition of a wide range of new customers including The Royal Horticultural Society. Retail sales directly from the factory and through local craft fairs continue to flourish and with the launch of the website in 2016 we expect to expand our retail sale operation significantly.
Crops for 2018 include a range of fruit, salads and vegetables, some grown specifically for incorporation into our Chocolate ranges and also commercially to the Ampleforth Abbey Estate, local inns and restaurants. Various plants can also be bought directly from the factory with fresh items available on a daily basis.
Charity Bank provided a £350,000 bank loan for the capital for renovations to transform the buildings. Drone footage of the horticulture site, February 2017.
We are currently fundraising for our ambitious phase 2 plans. Projects under consideration include further development in horticulture, with the potential to develop the Beanstalk Gardens business even further, the production and sale of veggie, salad and Chocolate boxes to our own care homes, the local community and beyond, the production of bark for sale and a classic car hire business - which is currently being test marketed externally.