The late great Whitney Houston may have sung that the children are our future, but the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust (CAFT) is walking the walk. Aware that many children - through no fault of their own - miss out on the normalities of childhood, CAFT stepped up to provide a haven that allows all those who visit to enjoy the precious simplicity of childhood.
Based at the charming Booth Bank Farm in a 17th Century farmhouse in the heart of the Cheshire countryside, CAFT provides many free programmes for terminally ill, disabled and disadvantaged children under 17 years old from all over the North West.
We recently caught up with one of their leading fundraisers, Helen Crowther, for a chat about the incredible work CAFT is doing.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what CAFT is?
My name is Helen Crowther, and I’m a fundraiser at the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust (CAFT). We’re a charity based in Cheshire, and we provide holidays, day visits and Christmas parties for ill, disabled and socially disadvantaged children from all over the North West.
How did you get involved with CAFT?
My career history is not in the charitable sector at all. I have a media background and worked in TV for many years. I moved back up to the North West and was looking for a job that fulfilled me. I came across the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust (CAFT), and I’ve never looked back.
It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you have made a difference in a child’s life. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment to see the children at CAFT enjoying themselves and having experiences they wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to have because of their illness or disability, or social disadvantage.
Can you tell us a little about CAFT’s origins?
The idea for our charity started in 1985 when Tim Grundy, who was our founding patron, decided that he wanted to do something to help local disadvantaged children. With some very influential friends, he started to fundraise to create a centre where these children could have a break from their usual routines. In 1992, CAFT opened its doors to children from all over the North West.
Since then, the charity has just grown and grown. CAFT has gone from 19 weeks of holidays and 3 weeks of Christmas parties to being open year-round with activities happening every day for children from all over our region.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
Working in the charitable sector is always challenging. Fundraising, especially, is never easy because you’re up against lots of other charities and you’re all vying for the same pots of money. However, I would say our biggest challenge has been COVID-19, and I expect that’s the same for most businesses.
How did COVID-19 impact the charity’s work?
When lockdown hit, we had a huge year planned for the charity. We were hoping to have more children than ever before and raise more money, but all that came to a halt instantly. We closed for a couple of months and then started to provide day visits outdoors that were socially distanced for individual families.
The other challenge, as most charities would find, was fundraising. We couldn’t hold our face to face events or work in the community. Most businesses were sending people home or struggling to stay open, which meant they couldn’t support charities either. It was a very difficult time, but I’m pleased to say that things are starting to get back to normal now. Our events are back on, and we’re back to doing everything with the kids as we did before.
What makes CAFT different from other charities?
There are a couple of things that set CAFT apart from other charities. The first is that we are totally accessible for all children, but we’re not a centre that looks like a centre for disabled children. We’ve got pathways everywhere to get the kids around, but we’ve also got equipment for disabled and non-disabled children alongside each other so the kids can learn from each other.
Another thing that makes us different is that we offer all of our activities for free. A lot of our beneficiaries wouldn’t be able to come to CAFT if there was a fee attached to it. If someone can donate, that is amazing, but all our activities are free of charge to our users.
Lastly, we work a lot with corporate supporters. It’s not just about what they can give to us, but what we can give to them as well. If a business wants their teams to get out and do volunteering hours or get involved in the community, we help them fulfil that by working on the land or helping at an event.
How has Storage King helped CAFT?
We use Storage King because it is so convenient for us at the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust. It’s just down the road, which makes it easy for us to get to any time. The access is brilliant for us to get into our unit whenever we need it, and the staff are fabulous. They always help us out, and we really couldn’t ask for more.
What’s in the pipeline for CAFT going forward?
A big project we’re working on at the moment is our wishlist. We have an amazing wishlist detailing all of the different areas if donors want to buy arts and crafts materials for the children, feed for our animals, or cleaning products to keep the place hygienic for all the children who visit.
We’re asking people to look at our wishlist and see if there is anything that their business does or they do personally that could help us. Alternatively, interested donors can go straight to Amazon and buy the items listed on our wishlist. Everything that donors buy for us allows us to put more money into the kids’ holidays.
The Children’s Adventure Farm Trust is an incredible organisation providing children from all over the North West with a haven where they can enjoy fun, safe and engaging activities that suit the interests and needs of every child who visits. If you would like to get involved or donate, you can visit CAFT's website or their Amazon Wishlist, where you can donate much-needed supplies.
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