Accompanied by a couple of friends we lunched on excellent fish and chips at The Trusty Servant. I drank a pint of Doom Bar. After our meal we attended Minstead Lodge where Noura met us for a tour of this huge building, probably a Victorian reproduction of an earlier manor house.
It was Noura’s day off, because the establishment, apart from the residential students and some staff, is closed at weekends. However, she came in from her home in Ringwood to accommodate us. Her husband and two year old daughter also gave generously of their time and wandered around with us. What was once a family home was bought with a generous legacy and turned into a Training Project for people with learning disabilities. Martin, whom I’d met soon after we arrived in Minstead, had set up and directed the place for twenty five years, until recently moving to a liaison role with Furzey Gardens.
I had had no idea what a thriving community it is, or how extensive the house and grounds are, so found the visit most informative and spiritually uplifting. One of our guides was a gentleman in transitional accommodation before a move to independent living in Totton. A delightful and courteous young man, he took pride in showing us round, telling us what the various activities were, and, I suspect, pulling Noura’s leg. He was clear that he would continue to come and work here after he had moved. After twenty years in residence I am sure he would need that continuity. His special area of expertise was feeding and caring for the animals. We were shown horses, donkeys, and goats all of which answered his call. The geese were less interested, possibly because their feeder passed us on his way to their field as we came away from it. Noura’s daughter was particularly fascinated by the chickens, and clutched a couple of what looked like pigeon feathers she had found earlier. Those preparing for independence in this way live on the upper floor of their current building. Our guides seemed very willing to give us all the time we needed, in taking us through the communal rooms and the gardens.
There are a number of finely crafted wooden tables and chairs made, seamlessly, out of single enormous trees. These were made by a local craftsman as payment in kind for professional services rendered by the owner. One held crib figures, behind which, clearly recently having descended from the chimney to the open fireplace in one of the panelled reception rooms, could be glimpsed a diminutive Father Christmas. Others stood by window seats from which views down the valley and across the forest could be enjoyed. The kitchen garden was impressive, and plants were on sale outside the reception area.
The link with Furzey Gardens and the Chelsea Garden was evident on the walls in the form of superb reportage paintings in the style of those decorating the sister project. We were told by staff member Andy that each resident and staff member of the Lodge made one of the stained glass leaves woven into the walls of the thatched building that features in the winner of Chelsea gold.
After our lunch a light supper of cheese on toast and apple pie and custard sufficed for our evening sustenance.