Brighter times ahead for High Peak’s disabled riders

Happier days are on the horizon for Buxton-based Helen Atkin Group, Riding for the Disabled (RDA) as a £140,000 covered equestrian arena starts to take shape.

A man and woman on a digger

Dave and Louise Thompson, owners of Buxton Riding School – which hosts regular riding sessions operated by Helen Atkin Group, RDA – celebrate the start of groundwork to create a £140,000 covered equestrian arena.

Groundwork has started to lay firm foundations for the 30 metres by 50 metres structure, which will enable disabled riders of all ages and abilities across the High Peak in Derbyshire to ride in most weather conditions and is expected to open later this year.

Local companies are stepping up to the plate to help: Tarmac Ltd – Buxton Lime and Cement’s Charity Committee is supplying stone for the arena base and access road, and Buxton-based Lomas Distribution Ltd is transporting it to the site, both free of charge.

Main work on the arena – located at Buxton Riding School, Fern Farm – is planned once the current Coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased so that riders from primary school to retirement age will eventually be able to ride more often, boosting both their mental and physical health.

“All our hard working members, volunteers and supporters are extremely excited that what initially seemed an ambitious dream to mark national RDA’s 50th anniversary last year is finally becoming a reality,” said Group Chairman Wendy Howe.

“It’s wonderful news, coming at a very dark and difficult time for people across the world, and giving our small group great hope for the future, as all our riding sessions are suspended at the moment because of Coronavirus.

“All being well, and depending on how the current pandemic and lockdown measures evolve, we are hoping that our fabulous new facility will be up and running by the end of 2020.”

Members of Helen Atkin Group, RDA – which was founded more than 30 years ago and has offered regular riding sessions for hundreds of High Peak riders ever since – raised the money themselves, with generous help from a variety of organisations and individuals.

Proposals to provide a covered arena were first sparked by the offer of £50,000 from the estate of David Hammond, administered by Brooke-Taylors Solicitors of Buxton. Fundraising started in earnest at the start of 2019 with an online crowdfunding appeal. Not only did Sport England match the £7,070 raised in just three months, it also offered an additional grant of £40,000 to get the campaign off to a flying start.

Since then, subsequent donations and a variety of fund-raising activities – including a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats and evening of equine-assisted therapy and Western riding demonstrations – have helped the group reach its target.

The arena will be erected by J. M. Milner Steel Framed Buildings Ltd of Stoke-on-Trent. Facilities will include full disabled access and toilet, a fitted kitchen for volunteers donated by Howden Joinery’s Buxton depot, office space and a spectator area. Additional parking will be provided, and the site will be landscaped to blend in with its rural surroundings.

“I’d like to extend a massive and sincere thank you to all the people, businesses and organisations who have helped us achieve our goal with their much-appreciated donations and support for our fund-raising efforts,” added Wendy.

“Their generosity will enable us to offer more riding sessions and to protect our riders in cold, wet and windy conditions, which can affect them in a variety of ways. Mentally, they can be distracting and distressing, while physically they can be painful, restricting muscle movement,” added Wendy.

“We also plan to expand the number of equestrian activities we  offer, to encourage our riders to extend their skills and perhaps compete in regional and national RDA competitions, so our project has huge potential to make a real difference to many people’s lives.”

Janette Sykes