Claire's Story

In May 2010, I left my job as a lawyer and signed on to a one-year horticulture course at Capel Manor College. There, I saw an advert recruiting volunteers to Forty Hall Vineyard. I started coming here every week on Wednesdays and monthly on Sundays.

At that point, I was struggling with anorexia, which had taken control of my life. Each day had become incredibly painful mentally and physically, and I was struggling to find any sort of peace. Those few hours working outside in the vineyard with the other volunteers [were] like a saviour to me.

Being in the fresh air, doing physical work and having warm, inspirational people around gave me a glimmer of hope for the future. I started to see that my life could be different and, when I started my course at Capel Manor College later that year, I had begun to feel like I was part of life again and had a lot to look forward to.

It has been fantastic experience working on the vineyard, learning about grape growing in the UK and meeting such a diverse group of people.

On a practical level, I have received training in grape growing and wine making, which has been a great help in understanding the vineyard tasks. I’ve met Forty Hall’s winemaker and seen how he manages his own vineyard and the wine-making process.

Three years down the line, both my health and my career have made huge leaps forward. I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled across my passion for viticulture and horticulture. After my Capel Manor course, I completed a placement at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, then found a job as assistant gardener on a private estate in Suffolk. From this, I got my current job as a gardener on a large private estate, assisting the owner to redevelop a four-acre walled garden and manage an established two-acre vineyard – the perfect combination! Three years ago when I started volunteering at Forty Hall Vineyard, I could never have imagined that I would be in this position now; embarking on an exciting project combining horticulture and viticulture.

Although I now live 50 miles away from Forty Hall Vineyard, I still try be involved as much as I can. I will always remember how much my time spent volunteering helped me turn things around for the better.

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