Founded in 1975 by Ruth and Ken Hester after inheriting the farm from Ruth’s father. With support from Wiltshire County Council, Fairfield was established as a Rural Training Unit. It started with just a handful of students who were taught agriculture and horticulture primarily. Some students became residential, living in the farmhouse with Ruth and Ken Hester and later in the cottages next door.
The Rural Training Unit grew slowly over the next few years and employed a part-time teacher and a few residential care staff. The only buildings on the current college site at that time were a few wooden huts, before the original agriculture building was constructed around 1979. This was followed in 1988, by the student common room (known then as the recreation building).
As the Rural Training Unit continued to grow, it took in more students and employed further staff that required additional accommodation and around 1980 leased two properties from Knightstone Housing Association. In 1981 it purchased the Horticultural nursery site and branched out into the field of employment with support from the Manpower Services Commission. The nursery employed about 12 people in a commercially run venture for a number of years. In 1984 it purchased 45 High Street for use as a residential care home which it extended in 1986 (and again in 2003).
The Rural Training Unit became Fairfield Opportunity Farm in 1992 (and Fairfield Farm College in 2005) following the Incorporation of Further Education Colleges. It continued to grow as a residential college, refurbishing 35 to 39 High Street in 1994 providing additional student houses and in 2006 it built 39A High Street in the land adjoining. A further residential property, 12 Whitecroft was purchased in 2012 providing 24 beds to students to learn to live independently within the community. In 2018, numbers 17 and 19 High Street were purchased as potential supported living houses for adults with learning difficulties.
Work on modernising the present college site began in 2001; this coincided with the Further Education Funding Council changing to the Learning and Skills Council. The initial phase was completed in 2002; this was the main college building for a few years before it became apparent that further expansion was necessary. A long term site development plan was drawn up and funds were raised before Phases 1 and 3 were completed in 2011, shortly followed by Phase 4 in 2012. Phase X – the new agriculture building was then added in 2014 so that the old agriculture building could be demolished to make way for the final Phase 2 development which was completed in March 2015, which is what we are doing today. The Multi-Use Games Area, providing enrichment through sport was added in 2016.
In 2018, the Charity acquired The Hope Nature Centre, an animal park and café established to work with adults with learning difficulties. This has provided additional learning and training opportunities for students and trainees at the Centre as well as longer term employment opportunities.
In March 2018, Ken Hester sadly passed away leaving the farm and properties, including the farmhouse to the Trust. The grade 2 listed farmhouse was at the heart of the Charity and has sadly sat empty since Ken moved to care facilities in 2000. With the relevant permissions from the Council and support from Russel, Conservation Officer, Elkins Architects and Liddiards Builders, work has begun to restore the Farmhouse. We look forward to completing the works so that students can continue to benefit from the Ken and Ruth’s legacy.
Fairfield Farm Trust has been providing training opportunities for young people with learning disabilities for 45 years. It has always been an organisation with the vision to grow and develop to meet the changing needs of young people and we thank Ken and Ruth for their inspiration and hard work in establishing the Charity.