Our History

30th AnniversarySpadework was established as an independent charity in May 1984.  The aim of the charity is to provide training for adults with learning difficulties and to help them gain confidence and to reach their full potential as independent members of the community.

The organisation was the creation of a group of parents who had sons and daughters with learning difficulties.  They wanted more for their offspring than what was available at the time, within the statutory sector such as ‘Social Education Centres’, which often did little more than provide respite for parents and carers, with very little stimulus for the people that attended.

Once the concept of structured training had been accepted, the Founding Body received encouragement, support and even financial backing from Social Services.

HistoryInitially the charity decided to concentrate on horticulture and gardening activities. Not only was there a demand for gardening services within the local community, but it was seen that by getting the “trainees” (most of whom originated from sheltered backgrounds) to mix more with the general public would be a first step towards confidence building. A suitable site was found within the grounds of Princess Christian Farm at Hildenborough, which was providing sheltered day placements for people with learning disabilities under the auspices of the Tunbridge Wells Health Authority.

The land available to Spadework measured 0.75 hectare.  An old mobile caravan was donated to be used as an office and a small polytunnel was erected to propagate and grow plants from seed. A group of trainees, under the supervision of a team leader, provided gardening services in the local area of Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. The initial catchment area for trainees was Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, but this was later expanded to include Maidstone.

In 1988 a sub depot was opened using the disused stable block at Leybourne Grange to ease the travel problems for Maidstone trainees.

By 1989 the trainee level had risen to 15 full time equivalents with 6 full time supervisors.

The late Lord Kindersley (resident locally at Shipbourne), a Director of Lazard Merchant Bankers and Chairman of the Commonwealth Development Corporation was appointed Patron of the charity.   Hugo Kindersley helped Spadework to obtain a £25, 000 grant in 1988, which rescued the charity at a difficult time when it was facing almost certain financial collapse.

Subsequent Patrons have included Ann Widdecombe, the former MP for Maidstone and Weald, Mark Wolfson, former MP for Sevenoaks,  the Reverend. Nicholas Stacey former Director of Kent Social Services (1974-85), the late Sir John Grugeon,  Leader of Kent County Council (1973-82) and the Kent Police Authority (1994-98).  Tom Tungendhat, MP  for Tonbridge and Malling is now Patron of Spadework.

In 1994 the charity purchased an additional 7 acres of land in Offham near West Malling to provide expansion with further training opportunities to meet demand from the Maidstone and Medway Towns catchment areas.  In response to public demand and to fulfil the needs of the trainees, the facilities and number of services offered have been increased and now include woodwork, basic computer skills, machinery maintenance, office and retailing skills, basic food hygiene, simple home cooking, and café waiting service and craft workshop, in addition to the horticulture and gardening already in place.

The Hildenborough site was closed in 2011 and all operations were relocated to Offham.

All of the capital development has been achieved thanks to the generosity of charitable trusts, corporate sponsors, public donations and two grants from the Community Fund (National Lottery) plus a further grant from the World Food programme, whilst local authority funding have helped to meet over 50% of the annual revenue costs.

Developing skills for people with learning difficulties