Nestling in the heart of Wigan’s greenbelt, just a stone’s throw from suburban streets and the local doctor’s surgery, lies a little oasis of calm. Fir Tree Fishery CIC provides an accessible facility in which the elderly, particularly stroke survivors, can come to fish with assistance from young learners who have faced difficulty in gaining qualifications or employment.
Education for Everybody Victoria Galligan met up with Martin Taylor, who is the Managing Director, to find out how it has evolved since its inception eight years ago…
How did you get the idea to create this accessible facility?
We used to grow Christmas trees on the farm, hence the name: Fir Tree Fishery. In 2010, we had just harvested a crop of trees, which grew on the land surrounding our original fishing lakes, and we thought: ‘Do we want to wait another eight or nine years for another crop, or do we want to diversify?’
We had run the commercial fishing lakes for a while and noticed that we weren’t attracting any anglers with disabilities. So I began what became somewhat of a crusade!
I contacted stroke groups and disability charities in the area, who told me that loneliness and social isolation among elderly men in particular was prolific – and that after an illness or injury in later life, many simply did not have the confidence to leave the house and enjoy a day’s fishing.
There were hundreds of individuals just in Wigan alone, so we decided to create this accessible facility. I contacted the British Disabled Angling Association (BDAA) and they helped us to design the new facility from the inception. We funded the project through our own private investment, and were successful in applying for funding from Sport England and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
What facilities does the Fishery offer?
All the lakes are available for pleasure fishing throughout the year, and alongside this the new facility allows for regular rehabilitation sessions offered to those with accessibility issues. There are ramps up to the water’s edge for wheelchair users, and on the edge of the 40 “pegs” (mini jetties constructed from recycled plastic decking where people can fish from) are kickboards to ensure wheelchair users are safe and wide enough to allow for 1:1 support.
When did the centre open?
The centre opened in 2013. At the start, we had lots of support from local charities who were bringing their clients service users with disabilities such as strokes and individuals who had suffered brain injuries up to fish. But each angler brought with them a carer or a relative, and I had an idea.
I had been approached before by the local Youth Offending Team about bringing in youngsters who needed to gain qualifications in order to get them on the employment ladder. So I thought, “Why don’t they offer this low-level care which our disabled anglers need?”
Who does the Fishery educate?
The first batch of young trainees where 12 people who were not in education or employment (NEET), and we arranged for them to meet and greet the same angler each week, and to support them with their fishing equipment.
At first both the young trainees and the older anglers were quite quiet around one another but, as the weeks went by, they began to build up a relationship. They became friends and supported each other, in a way. The anglers told the trainees about their younger years, and they were role models for the trainees.
After further funding from sources including the European Social Fund and with encouragement from Wigan Council, Fir Tree Fishery evolved into an education centre. The trainees can now work towards BTEC qualifications in Assisting Others in Angling, Land & Environment and Fishery Management. They carry out their volunteering with disabled anglers alongside studying in classrooms on site.
We have a number of tutors and specialist educators now and many of our trainees go straight into jobs, or into full-time education. We have a 77% success rate and the trainees prepare not just for work, but for adulthood as well. We have a kitchen on site where they can prepare basic meals and wash clothes. They can carry out animal care and land-based activities, such as team-building games, too.
For schools, Fir Tree Fishery CIC also runs a Preparing for Adulthood Course, where younger people with SENDs aged from 14 can received 1:2:1 training.
No doubt the soothing water and the lush green surroundings draw people to the site as well as its facilites! Is this what you were aiming for?
The core values on which built the facility remain the same. We are a facility for the community, and have formed links with organisations throughout the area. We always just wanted to give something back to the community.