Blind farmer opens doors to farming with new opportunity for disabled people in Scotland

The Inclusive Farm has joined forces with The MacRobert Trust to create a new farm in Scotland specifically designed for disabled people to enter the agricultural industry

clock • 5 min read
Mike Duxbury, managing director at Inclusive Farm in Bedfordshire, has described his excitement at the new project in Scotland
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Mike Duxbury, managing director at Inclusive Farm in Bedfordshire, has described his excitement at the new project in Scotland

A farmer who has set lofty ambitions to make the industry more diverse and inclusive has announced an exciting partnership to provide opportunities for people living with disabilities in agriculture.

Mike Duxbury and Vanessa Shillito, managing directors at The Inclusive Farm in Bedfordshire, has confirmed a partnership with Aberdeenshire-based charity The MacRobert Trust to create a farm on land in Cromar designed for people living with disabilities.

The holding will be called 'Inclusive Farm Scotland' at MacRobert.

Mr Duxbury, who was registered blind at the age of six-years-old, said the move had been a 'significant step forward' for the advancement of disabled people in agriculture.

Inclusive Farm - Founded in January 2021 to provide students from diverse backgrounds with the confidence and skills to lead careers in agriculture - has confirmed the Scotland holding will be designed on Mr Duxbury and Ms Shillito's model from the original Bedfordshire site.

Vanessa Shillito and Mike Duxbury have managed operations at Inclusive Farm since 2021

The MacRobert estate, which covers 7,200 acres of farm and woodland in the village of Tarland, provides grants to support the development of young people, farming, horticulture, education and many more.

Lady MacRobert had established the MacRobert Trust in 1943 to advance institutions including the Royal Air Force and farming after the death of her three sons - two of which had died during the Second World War.  

Farmers Guardian podcast: Inclusive Farm co-founder Mike Duxbury and dairy farmer Rory Chrisite on the power of diversity and inclusivity in farming

Mr Duxbury has been chief executive of Inclusive Farm Scotland and said he was excited at the prospect of providing opportunities for young people in Scotland.

"90 per cent of blind people, and 78 per cent of autistic people, are unemployed - but it does not have to be like this," he added.

"We are seeing first-hand the impact of providing skills to young people has had and we are excited to bring the same opportunities to Scotland.

"We are delighted to be partnering with The MacRobert Trust. 

"Together we will create unique learning environment which puts people with disabilities, additional needs or difference in the driving seat.

"Too often disabled people are told what they need, and we are determined that their voices and needs are met."

Mr Duxbury told Farmers Guardian inclusion had been a very important topic in the farming community and the industry had played a key role in driving diversity. 

Blind farmer appointed new managing director at Inclusive Farm

"Farming is having to go through a huge element of diversity at the moment but that can only be done by diversity in people and culture.

"Diversity has a huge knock-on effect on other industries too.

"A lot of industries do a lot of talking but then put very little action into rectifying the problem.

"However, farming has gone a long way in trying to do something tangible to promote diversity in farming.

"We have to start bringing together those elements together to create an industry where it becomes people in agriculture instead.

"I have people who come to my farm and they believe they can be like me, but it is not easy.

"But it can be done." 

Mr Duxbury, also known as The Blind Farmer, said he was committed to promoting the cause of inclusion in farming and he wanted others to experience the same feeling of joy he had as a farmer.

"I have been fighting and campaigning for disabled people to have better access to work for a long time," he added. 

Blind farmer receives prestigious Points of Light award for encouraging diversity in farming

"As a blind person, I have never been shy in picking one of the most difficult career paths to enter.

"I knew that I wanted a life and career in farming.

"While I was realistic in knowing I would have some limitations, I was determined to find out how I could attain my goal.

"Looking back on my life now, I cannot even begin to describe the love I have for farming. 

"It brings me so much joy and rewards.

"When I sit on the bench at the top of my farm on a beautiful spring evening and the animals are at rest in the stables, I cannot tell you the feeling it brings.

"My farm is my part of Britain and my world.

"I want others to feel that same feeling too."

The MacRobert Trust's chief executive, Rear Admiral Chris Hockley CBE, DL, said Inclusive Farm's vision and mission had aligned extremely well with the ethos of the charity.

"One of our main charitable themes is to support agriculture and those organisations that seek to widen its appeal and foster a greater understanding of the breadth of opportunities that it can offer," Mr Hockley added.

"We are absolutely delighted to be able to support this fantastic initiative and support Inclusive Farm's vision that we know will make a real difference to the lives of people with disabilities, additional needs or difference across Scotland, and give them the skills they need to carve a path for themselves in agriculture."

Dr Jenna Ross OBE, director of Inclusive Farm Scotland at MacRobert, said she had been delighted to support the partnership which had a special resonance to her.

"I have had the honour of supporting Mike and Vanessa since the inception of Inclusive Farm," Dr Ross added.

"Last year, we initiated discussions on bringing the concept to Scotland following a fantastic event hosted by Women in Agriculture Scotland at the Royal Highland Show. 

"This is a deeply personal ambition for me in that my younger brother Duncan, who was registered blind at birth, has struggled to find an accessible route into agriculture.

"This is an exciting opportunity to co-create a unique and empowering learning environment that is built by, and for, people with disabilities, additional needs or difference.

"On behalf of all the Inclusive Farm Scotland at MacRobert Directors and Trustees, I would also like to congratulate Mike on his appointment as chief executive.

"There is no one more qualified or more passionate about our industry, to lead this game-changing organisation than Mike."

The importance of inclusion in diversification at a farm in Swansea

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