Darach Croft wants to bring people with disabilities closer to nature

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A relatively young croft is moving with the times and using new methods to create a ‘Social Croft’.

Sarah and Hugh Asher bought Darach Croft in 2017 and have been working hard to make it functional but also a place where those with disabilities can experience nature.

The couple both have a background in social work and currently work for charities while they get the croft up and running.

Their first foray into farming as a couple was looking after some sheep on a friend’s farm in Lancashire where they lived for many years. Sarah Asher has also worked on similar projects called Care Farms in England.

She said: ‘I did a lot of therapeutic work with people who had masses of complex support needs and different disabilities, and I saw them really benefit from spending time in the gardens and literally just getting really muddy some days. People grow up – those with disabilities are protected.

‘You might go and look at something from a distance, or look out the window at the pretty garden, but do you ever go out and get absolutely covered in mud and really feel it and get that real connection with nature and the animals?’

The couple’s plans mean that people with physical disabilities and those with mental health issues could go out to feed the animals, help herd the sheep or even take a trip to find the cows on the shared grazing area.

They are currently working on solutions so that even those in wheelchairs will be able to get involved.

Crofting as a way of life is something that the Ashers wanted, not to make a heap of money – they knew that was not going to be the case as even long-established crofts are struggling to survive.

The Scottish Crofting Federation set up a project called Gaining Ground to encourage crofters to fulfil a social need.

Lucy Beattie is the project manager for this scheme. She said: ‘Modern crofting on land that is suited to subsistence living can be hard to make a living.

‘However, crofting as a social institution is vital to the very existence of the remote and rural populations of the Highlands and Islands. Without people living and working on crofts we could see a distinct and marked depopulation of the hills and the glens reminiscent of a second highland clearance.’

Market forces are driving croft land to be sold as second homes or letting accommodation to be used in the tourism industry.

‘The gaining ground project,’ Ms Beattie continued, ‘is focused on how crofting can fulfil a social need in the remote and rural areas of Scotland.

‘There are a number of small crofts that are providing models of social care through crofting – some as a business and others as a voluntary model. Crofters themselves want to provide community-supported care options that utilise nature, animal-assisted therapy and horticulture so that people who require support can access it within their own locality.’

The SCF has seen that crofting needs new and innovative ideas to remain relevant and are welcoming people like the Ashers who are coming from elsewhere and bringing their ideas with them.

If you want to learn more about this story and social crofting, visit www. obantimes.co.uk where you will find an in-depth podcast exploring the challenges and benefits of modern crofting.

 

CAPTION – Sarah and Hugh Asher moved to Strontian in 2017 to live close to the land and work with animals. Photograph: Richard Mason