Journeyman Jones: Much in favour of branching out

PUBLISHED: 11:15 09 March 2006 | UPDATED: 13:17 04 May 2010

Journeyman Jones, pictured above with Dean, gets to grips with the tools.
Photo: RICHARD MARSHAM

Journeyman Jones, pictured above with Dean, gets to grips with the tools. Photo: RICHARD MARSHAM

NEVER underestimate the pulling power of a free brunch. Greasy breakfasts are surely the best way to grab the attention of any journalist, and so it was with my visit to Branching Out, the Littleport-based charity for people with learning difficulties. Lo

NEVER underestimate the pulling power of a free brunch.

Greasy breakfasts are surely the best way to grab the attention of any journalist, and so it was with my visit to Branching Out, the Littleport-based charity for people with learning difficulties.

Lovely offices, blah blah, blah; great charity shop, blah, blah, blah; excellent brunch. Right, I've finished. Can I go home now?

Actually, I've got rather more to say. Since Terry Brook started the charity 10 years ago from a broken-down barn and portable building (he has since retired) it has gone from strength-to-strength.

Now based at Grange Lane, there are eight different work experience areas for people with learning difficulties: the wood workshop, market garden, charity shop, community cafe (all hail!), timber recycling unit, can and foil crushing, information technology and life skills.

I've got a busy morning ahead of me, it would seem. Still, if I am to reach my fried bread utopia, it is something I must do.

It's certainly a busy place. There's 32 students in all, with a different number attending on different days.

The main headquarters is on Grange Lane. Dean is going to show me around the place. He is one of the many young people who have been helped by Branching Out. He is 19, and is enjoying life to the full.

He gives me a detailed and informative tour, and the workshop is particularly impressive. This is where students, under the guidance of staff member Jason Poole, work on projects which can then be sold to raise funds. I have seen no finer bird boxes than the ones on show at Branching Out, which are sold in the charity shop.

The organisation also raises money through can-crushing, an important link in the recycling chain. Many of us could learn a great deal from the ideals which Branching Out supports. If we recycled a tenth of what the organisation does, the world would be a better place.

Upstairs, there's a group of offices where students can learn life skills and get certificates. Dean himself has a bulging portfolio of qualifications of which he is rightfully proud, most of which are in the information technology field, and will doubtless save him in later life from making them up, which I had to do.

Still, my current employers did not smell a rat when I told them about my doctorate in Applied Mathematics, and it got me the job.

Dean will not have to conjure up such fabrications. He is also a handy gardener, if his efforts in the greenhouse are anything to go by. The many awards from horticultural shows adorn the walls, testament to the effort of the students.

It's time to go down to the shop. I've jokingly railed against charity shops before in these pages. Hard to do the same against this one though. It sells everything - even computers. This is Dean's passion. Not long after we arrive, he's busy tinkering with motherboards and the like, but he doesn't have the annoying habit of most IT folk of telling you things, presuming all the time that you're remotely interested, but also completely stupid.

I've got two friends who do this. They tell me everything about the IT systems they work with, and I don't have the slightest care about it all.

Anyway, enough tangents. The shop is abuzz with activity, with Joan and Sophie marshalling things as best they can.

Everyone on the team helps out, and there's a steady flow of customers.

Branching Out is an amazing success story, really. From humble beginnings, it has grown and grown. It is that rare example of funds being pumped straight back into a charity, avoiding red tape.

It deserves to succeed, and is currently thriving. The community cafe, which was set up four years ago, does one of the best fried breakfasts you'll find anywhere. Like a fool, I opted for the large brunch only to find that my eyes were considerably larger than my stomach (as ever).

Marianne Christer keeps things moving in the cafe, and it's nice to get some interaction while Dean (bacon roll) and I enjoy our food.

So children, what have we learnt? That Branching Out will continue to, er, branch out. The only downer on the day was that Nicky from the office has lost her car keys - or at least she had done at the time of writing - so please, can we help her find them? There's bound to be a brunch in it for someone...

n If you would like Journeyman Jones to visit your organisation (free food is optional) contact him at the Ely Standard on 01353 667831 or email: ben.jones@archant.co.uk

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