A unique farm in Ellesmere Port is growing better lives.

Bridge Community Farms on Mill Lane has been given an unexpected £25,000 boost by Cheshire Freemasons that could help it help the lives of many more people.

The miracle fields of the social enterprise have so far found work for the long-term unemployed and helped create an award-winning star pupil.

The working farm aims to bring together people from all parts of the community and offer those in need a helping hand.

Francis Ball, who founded the community farm two years ago, said: “We were asked by our local senior school to give work experience on the farm to a couple of young girls who had been struggling in the classroom.

“After working with us one day a week helping to grow veg, salad and fruits in our fields and poly tunnels, one of the girls literally transformed from one of their most challenging students to an award winner.

“When she returned to school she was voted student of the week, not just for her class or even her year, but for the whole school.”

Mr Blank is shown a veg box for the homeless

He added: “As a result of this success the school now wants to send us several more such students to the farm and we are looking at taking students struggling at other schools across the town too.”

The farm’s magical spell, conjured up from a therapeutic mixture of fresh outdoor life and working next to nature, has also succeeded in turning long-term unemployed into full time workers.

“Out of more than 60 long-term unemployed, mostly with mental health issues, who came to the farm over one recent period, several went on to find permanent work,” said Mr Ball.

“Two of them we took on at the farm and five others found permanent jobs elsewhere. One of them had never worked before in his life, another had not worked for 22 years.”

He explains how the farm provides therapeutic working surroundings for people living with mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Research shows that outdoor activity can improve mental health and wellbeing and help people better manage their mental health problems,” he believes.

“Spending time outdoors on therapeutic activity such as gardening or exercise is a recognised as an effective treatment for mental health problems that can be prescribed by GPs.

“It is a cost-effective alternative to medication and psychological therapy and can be used to compliment the treatment a person is already receiving.”

The farm sells its produce at local markets and businesses have chipped in with sponsorship to donate freshly picked veg boxes from the farm to the homeless through a scheme called ‘Better Lives’ veg boxes.


The farm’s activities will now be extended with the help of the donation from the Cheshire Freemasons, given as a present to celebrate the Masons’ 300th anniversary.

The money will be used to establish more outbuildings to expand the range of fruit and veg grown there so the farm can give self-esteem back to many more long-term unemployed and problem teenagers.

The farm’s manager, Clair Johnson, said she personally benefited from the therapeutic work the farm provides when she experienced severe stress through her job as manager at a distribution centre.

“I requested leave from my employer to spend time at the community farm on a one-day a week basis and found the working environment so therapeutic,” she said.

“I was encouraged by Francis Ball to work here full time and since then my mental health, wellbeing and work life balance has improved beyond measure.”

The leader of the county’s 5,000 Freemasons, chartered accountant Stephen Blank, who goes by the title of Provincial Grand Master, said: “We are making our donation to this community farm because we believe it will make a big difference to the lives of many people both young and old from the locality who feel forgotten and left behind.

“The donation is part of a £500,000 charity pot that Cheshire Freemasons are handing out to charities, voluntary groups, Freemasons and their dependents across Cheshire in celebration of this year’s Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England, one of Britain’s biggest givers to charity.”