A Vision of Hope in Monmouthshire

16th December 2016

The Vision of Hope Animal Assisted Therapy charity is among the 90 groups in Gwent celebrating their share of nearly £220,000 in cash seized from criminals which has been awarded from the Police and Crime Commissioner's Partnership Fund.

The project is based on Wenallt farm near the village of Gilwern in Monmouthshire. The 18 acre farm was purchased by the founders and Directors of the charity, Dinah Sansome and her husband David, six years ago. Dinah, who has been awarded an MBE for her services to charity, has been working with the homeless since 1968 and has been sharing her homes with offenders to help rehabilitate them since 1980.

The couple have supported over 7,000 people over the years.

Dinah and David have opened their home at Wenallt farm to ex-offenders and young people recovering from substance misuse so that they can benefit from on-site treatment and therapy relating to the care of animals. The farm houses up to 10 young people who are referred from prisons, charities, social services, housing and other organisations. The young people live and work on the farm with Dinah and her husband.

They receive visits from the probation service and substance misuse workers and have all the support that they need.

The therapy helps them build trust and bonds with the animals, most of which have been rescued. Several of the residents have gone on to build lives in the local community and work for the charity, either permanently or as volunteers. The £5,000 they have been awarded will help the project to buy agricultural tools, a poultry incubator, the services of an instructor and a moveable animal shelter.

One person who can certainly vouch for the impact of the project is 38 year old Andrew Oates. Andrew has no doubt that he wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for the support of Dinah and her husband. He was about 11 years old when he started misusing substances and his addiction spiralled out of control. He started out smoking Cannabis but soon graduated to taking substances like Ketamine and LSD and was leading a chaotic lifestyle by the time he was in his 20's.

"I was a drug addict for many years and I lived a life that I'm not very proud of," says Andrew.

"I hurt a lot of people through my drug addiction and my behaviour. I would quite often wake up in places not knowing where I was, sometimes not really knowing who I was or how I got there. I was exposed to huge amounts of risk, losing chunks of days and weeks sometimes."

Through his family, Andrew was eventually introduced to Dinah who was running a rehabilitation centre at the time.

"It was a difficult road to change because those behaviours had become so embedded in my life that they became normal and seeing anything outside of that was almost impossible," he recalls.

"In the initial stages, I was given a little puppy called Matilda to look after because I was very withdrawn and disconnected from life. And that little puppy helped me to begin to make connections again with people. It's difficult to describe how disconnected you feel when you don't feel in control of your mind and who you are."

With the right support and a lot of hard work, Andrew turned his life around and is now happily married with two children and works on the farm with people who are going through the same experiences.
"I think it would be fair to say I would probably be dead if it wasn't for their support (Dinah and David)," says Andrew.

"I have no doubt if the drugs themselves didn't physically kill me, I probably would have had an accident or died in a ditch somewhere."

According to Andrew, the remoteness and the hard work involved in running the farm coupled with the family atmosphere and the responsibility of looking after the animals is a perfect mix for those looking turn their lives around.

"It's peaceful, quiet and remote on the farm and part of the recovery process is to be removed from the situation that you were in," says Andrew.

"There's a physical distance and barrier away from drugs and alcohol that helps you here. The work on the farm is hard but the emotional and psychological challenge to overcome addiction is even harder. We have chickens, cows, sheep, pigs donkeys and horses here to look after. A typical day starts with cleaning out, feeding, grooming and all that hard work that comes with running a farm. A big part of what we do here is to install accountability and responsibility and to begin to build a work ethic in the people who come to us. The aim is that they will one day leave this place and become productive members of society. We try and build their skillset through the jobs they do on the farm. They learn carpentry skills, fencing, and agricultural skills. We try and help them to overcome difficulties that will certainly come their way.

A lot of people who have come through here have set up their own businesses locally and have built strong families. The tolerance, patience, care and attention that David and Dinah have shown people over the years is incredible. They give people which society have written off the opportunity to come and live in their home. It is high risk what they do but they share the fabric of their lives with people like me who come through here. Dinah has already had an MBE for her work but she should be made a Saint."