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News > Alumnae News > Lydia Otter awarded an MBE for her services to people with autism

Lydia Otter awarded an MBE for her services to people with autism

At Windsor Castle, Lydia received her award from Prince William.

We are delighted to share the wonderful news that Lydia Otter, class of 1973, has been awarded an MBE in the King's New Year Honours list, for services to people with autism and their families in Oxfordshire. She has recently been to Windsor Castle to receive her award from Prince William and described it as ‘simply a wonderful day’. 

Lydia Otter is the CEO of Pennyhooks Farm Trust in Oxfordshire, which welcomes 50 children and young adults with autism every week. Some attend weekly, others daily, depending on their needs, and all are offered opportunities to develop social and working skills. The Farm was founded by Lydia and Richard Hurford, Care Farm Manager over 20 years ago and has been helping support young people with autism ever since. Its care is now shared with Mrs Emma Masefield, a fellow teacher from the previous Chinnor Resource Unit, and now our Autism Learning Centre Manager. 

Speaking about her recent award, Lydia wanted to pay tribute to the people and influences which she feels have shaped her and helped her to achieve this honour. 

'When I heard the amazing news, I thought, how has this happened? My feeling is that the award belongs to the many many people over the years who have supported me: family, teachers, and friends. All have shown me such extraordinary generosity with their support.' 

‘My interest in music started with my great aunt and grandfather, who played the piano to me as a tiny child, and my parents, who encouraged me to learn the piano. Equally my family taught me to nurture our beautiful little farm, its wildlife and farm animals. My grandfather and father chose Pennyhooks Farm as their home after the huge upheaval of WWII, because they loved it. My grandfather taught me to care for my own animals, drawing poignantly on his WWI experience in the Cavalry to encourage me to 'water your horses first' before going in for my own teatime. My father, my hand so often in his as we walked the land, said “try to be a good steward and leave the farm a little better than you came to it”.' 

‘My love of music was nurtured at St Helen’s, learning the piano and organ there, and taking part in events on the stage (such as HMS Pinafore!). I am very grateful for the academic & musical opportunities St Helen’s offered me in those formative years of my life.’ 

‘This love of music and the family farm was the start of my journey. It is these understandings which have underscored my work, using my farm to provide work training and work opportunities for my students with complex autism, many of whom have no spoken language and often have difficulties controlling their voluntary movements. We adapt the jobs to suit the students. If they need to move in arcs rather than straight lines, for example, we position the logs they are collecting at the right distance from the trailer they are filling, to use their movement differences to their best advantage.’ 

‘The ethos for our staff is to believe the best of the students, enable them to succeed and never to confront them but always to support. I say to my staff, “our students wake up with a mountain ahead of them each day, our job is always to help them level the mountains and never to place another one in front of them”. The skills which the students gain at the farm include animal care, conservation work, gardening, rural craft woodwork and baking.' 

‘Our next venture, while still developing our Care Farm daily services, is to offer accommodation on the farm in response to their parents’ profound wish for their adult children to continue to have somewhere to live and work when their parents can no longer care for them. This is all a rare approach, as their adult lives are often based only on leisure activities, a nice enough life but not the same as having the self-respect that comes from taking part in meaningful work and belonging to a team.’ 

Many congratulations to Lydia and her team, who have a huge amount to be proud of. We wish them every success in their future work to support the community they serve. 

You can find out more about the work of Pennyhooks Farm Trust and choose to support it through their website: Pennyhooks 

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