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The Market Field Farm: In Conversation with Project Manager, Naomi Andrews

The Market Field Farm is an exciting project currently in development with the support of the architectural team at Barker. At its core, the Market Field Farm is a vocational college dedicated to supporting young adults with special education needs in their transition from education into employment and adult life. It will provide a supportive yet challenging environment that will allow students to take the necessary steps towards independent life.

With a target opening date of Spring 2024, the Market Field Farm is an ambitious project that will be the first of its kind in the UK. So, to gain some deeper insight, we sat down with Project Manager and Director of Market Field Farm, Naomi Andrews, to learn more.

What was your inspiration for the project?
I spent a good couple of years researching – I travelled around the country visiting colleges, schools, community farms, care farms and education centres. I looked at what had been working to get young people employed and, more importantly, what was failing. The model for Market Field Farm is unusual as we focus not only on education and skills training, but income generation and an effective business plan to create a commercial platform. The Charity (Market Field Farm) will ‘own’ the site and ensure the commercial enterprise runs effectively. The Market Field College will deliver the skills and education; each are delivering their own area of expertise to ensure success, both financially and within training.

Can you walk me through the Market Field Farm as a concept?
The market field farm is a post-19 academy for special education and disability needs students. The project seeks to provide vocational training facilities and semi-assisted living accommodation for young adults leaving SEND secondary education and eco-holiday lets within a biologically diverse and sustainable environment. This will provide a huge array of opportunities to help young adults transition into employment and independent living. We’ll host vocational training within hospitality, catering, horticulture, maintenance, graphic design, office administration, social media, floristry, tourism and conservation.

How will students move from education to employment?
We have been talking to local employers to ensure the skills training and qualifications we deliver meets local requirements. This demand has really steered our thinking and business model. It’s a very gentle process for both the young person and the employer themselves. The transition from Market Field into work will be gradual, maybe just one day at a time, until the hours required are achieved and at which time the young person will no longer be a student but become an employee. Paid to carry out that role by the company for which we’ve been providing the bespoke training. We will be with them every step of the way, and our support will never cease, we will be on hand to add in ‘top up’ training and that everyone is set up for success.

Each young person will have their own targets and timelines – someone may need just six weeks at Market Field Farm to learn the skills required to undertake a job and then just a couple of weeks transition, others may need two years on site. We can and will be flexible.

Talk me through the onsite wildlife reserve
The site is located on a beautiful nature reserve in rural Essex. As a keen nature lover, I felt it would only be appropriate to undertake the build with conservation at the forefront. But we also had to consider how to make this commercially viable – that’s where the eco-lets came in. These eco-holiday lets will allow guests to make the most of the stunning natural settings all throughout the year. We’ll host activities like wildlife photography, guided walks and bird watching.  

How will you fund the project?
The project will cost circa £5m. In principle, the local council have agreed to enabling housing, which will be built adjacent to the farm. Ideally, this housing will be modestly priced and made available to local families. Once these houses are built and sold, any profit will then pay for the Market Field Farm development. College places themselves will be funded by the Local Authority, just like any other college.

Thank you for your time Naomi, we can’t wait to see this project unfold!

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the project