Back in 2013, the Door reported how Adventure Plus had ambitious plans to buy the Windmill Farm Conference Centre in Clanfield, near Witney. Now, five years later, JO DUCKLES meets Jon Cox to find out how the plans are progressing.
A conference centre has been launched for use by adults on the site. There is also a newly renovated house, bought for the complex by some kind farmers. These are run as a separate business with any profits plunged into the charity for its work with children and teenagers. Some of these youngsters are from challenging backgrounds and may not otherwise get the chance to try a range of activities and hear the message of the Gospel.
There are already mountain bike trails, a climbing wall, adventure hall, and a barn containing a host of canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes. The next initiative is a village of yurts that are to be built of hempcrete – a high-intensity material that allows them to be used all year round. “They will be up and in use by next spring,” says Jon Cox, the founder of Adventure Plus. “They will be for youth groups to stay on the site. We hope to build a communal hub with showers and kitchens, but to start with we’ll have portable buildings.”
After that, it is hoped that a huge adventure barn will include high ropes, an even bigger climbing wall, and a parkour facility. A caving trail and a lake are also part of the ambitious plans. Bushcraft activities will take place in an area where 1,500 trees have been planted next to a small, existing copse.
Previously the charity, founded in 1990, ran from a depot on a farm near Witney, with just an office and a barn for storing equipment, bikes, boats and bows and arrows. “The main reason for leasing this space is that when we build the adventure base we will double the number of children and young people we can reach,” says Jon. Adventure Plus also offers gap years and internships, giving people the chance to learn about outdoor education, conservation or catering.
“We have social services knocking on our door, asking us to do more. When young people visit, they want to come back and do more. I think this sort of service should be strategic across the country. The national Church is scratching its head trying to work out how to engage hard-to-reach young people. It’s increasingly difficult to get them into the Church but they are living the Christian ethos by being a part of what we do here.
“There was a guy referred to us at 15. He’s now 25 and he said he was an angry, frightened boy and that coming to us helped him become the man he is today. That was brilliant. That makes the last 28 years worthwhile.”
Adventure Plus has launched a Fun Raising, rather than fundraising, scheme, encouraging young people to get involved with helping. “They can do anything. Arrange a gig, a bike ride or a walk. It doesn’t matter if they raise £60 or £600, it’s about getting the young people involved in what we are doing. We will be having a free open day for fun raisers with a barbecue and offer awards to people,” says Jon. Another big fundraiser is the annual Witney to Westminster canoe marathon.
So how can churchgoers support Adventure Plus? Jon says the growing team is praying for an experienced fundraiser, construction coordinator, human resources officer and a chief activity instructor as the work expands.
“There have been so many examples of God’s faithfulness in provision and guidance that have got us to where we are. We initially moved from a two-bedroomed flat in London as volunteer youth workers. I am happy to share our story at any parish breakfasts, or other groups.
“My prayer is that this would become a special place in the lives of thousands of young children and young people for years to come and that many will learn for the first time that they are greatly loved by our awesome, eternal, Heavenly Father.”
What do people who use the centre say? One said: “We had an absolutely brilliant time! Thank you for your warm welcome, exciting activities and challenging the children to overcome their fears. We will definitely be back next year.”
A parent added: “Please pass on to all the team how much my child enjoyed the week. He’s quite a quiet, thoughtful, sensitive boy and we were a little concerned that he might struggle to settle in….but all the leaders did such a good job of making everyone feel very welcome and included that he didn’t feel nervous at all.”