As soon as Richard Stephenson retired his brother-in-law had just the job for him – volunteer gardener at a new charity just being formed – Daisy Chain.

"My brother-in-law Albert Dicken was instrumental in helping Daisy Chain founder Lesley Hanson setting up the charity. I had just retired after 40 years working for what had been the North-Eastern Electricity Board and as a keen gardener, Albert thought I would like to help maintain the gardens at the farm which was to be the hub of Lesley’s vision," Richard explains.

Now 70, Richard is still volunteering with Daisy Chain, still helping to look after the gardens even though the farm site at Norton has changed almost beyond recognition 15 years since the formation in 2003.

After her son Jacob was diagnosed with autism at an early age, Lesley’s dream was to offer a haven to families affected by autism. Says Richard, "She was really driven and passionate about her vision and I think she would be delighted with how Daisy Chain has grown and the services it now offers."

In fact, Richard says one of the first services Daisy Chain was able to offer was a short gardening club where youngsters would spend an hour in the garden with staff and volunteers like himself while their parents were able to have a cuppa and a chat in the farmhouse.

"I remember that being so important, to offer that break for the parents. Gardening has always played an important part in the activities offered and that really expanded my role from just keeping the gardens tidy to helping the young people enjoy them."

Richard loves volunteering at Daisy Chain, "I feel I have been very fortunate in my life and you realise at Daisy Chain that not everyone has such an easy life so there is a great satisfaction in playing a part in a charity that offers support to help make life that bit easier. The satisfaction I get from volunteering is amazing.

"I love meeting all the families, the children, the adults, everyone who benefits from Daisy Chain." Richard’s wife Sue is also a volunteer working in the Daisy Chain Superstore.

"There have been huge changes over the years. It has grown tremendously. Everything was in the farmhouse originally, in fact the first volunteer Christmas lunch was small enough to take place around the kitchen table. The vision was there but the facilities were not. Then we expanded into the barn where children could visit the small animals. I was once asked to show some Cubs around, I was showing them the guinea pigs when one of them helpfully pointed out they were not guinea pigs, they were gerbils! I was so embarrassed," Richard laughs.

"I am definitely better sticking to the gardening and the young people love it, picking strawberries and eating peas from the pod – it’s lovely. Corporate volunteers often come in for a day and help out with the gardening and they love it too. It’s satisfying to contribute to an environment that means so much to the families who use Daisy Chain."

Perhaps the only disappointing time Richard has had at Daisy Chain was when a rescued goat escaped from its enclosure, "It got into the garden and ate everything," he recalls. "I can laugh now but it wasn’t funny then."

Richard has watched as the sensory garden was developed, the day centre built and Daisy Chain expand to offer after school clubs for children, clubs for siblings and adults as well as activity days, trips and educational support. "The grounds, the gardens and the farm all play a huge part in providing that haven for families so I am very proud of that," he says.

However, Richard’s main satisfaction stems from the fact that he is contributing to helping those families, but he admits, "I get more out of it personally. I get to meet all these people and work alongside other volunteers of all different ages and outlooks. It keeps me young which is a massive benefit to me. It has changed me as a person and I would recommend it to anyone."