Riders, volunteers and supporters of Helen Atkin Group Buxton Riding for the Disabled (RDA) are celebrating the start of a bright new era as their wraps come off their state-of-the-art, £168,000 covered riding arena.

Almost three years of tireless fundraising, preparation and construction work have laid the foundations for disabled riders of all ages and abilities across the High Peak to ride in comfort in most weather conditions in the Helen Atkin Arena at Buxton Riding School, Fern Road.

Group Chairman Janine Frost cut the ribbon to declare open the 30 metres by 50 metres building – named after the late daughter of one of the group’s founder members and long-standing treasurer, Pat Atkin – on Tuesday October 12.

A group of people cutting a ribbon
Helen Atkin Group Buxton RDA Chairman Janine Frost (second from right) cuts the ribbon to declare open the Helen Atkin Arena, watched by riders and volunteers. Also pictured are (left to right) Caroline Watmough, Trustee Julie Andrew and Pat Atkin, all of whom helped to found the group more than 30 years ago, and Louise Thompson of Buxton Riding School.

“I am absolutely delighted that, after several years of unstinting commitment, belief and sheer hard graft, we are finally able to use the fantastic new facilities in our fabulous new facility,” she said.

“So many people, businesses and organisations have encouraged and supported us along the way, right from our initial bids for funding to the unexpected and massive challenges posed by the Covid 19 epidemic and several lockdowns.

“I’d like to pay particular tribute to our former Chairman, Wendy Howe, who retired earlier this year after spearheading our major fund raising campaign and steering the project throughout, and to Sport England for its substantial contribution of £63,000.

“Massive thanks are due to Dave and Louise Thompson, owners of Buxton Riding School, which hosts our regular riding sessions, for working virtually round the clock to prepare the groundwork before building could even begin, and contributing so much more ever since to help our ambitious pipe dream become a reality.

“We are also indebted to our dedicated volunteers, some of who have been with us a long time and have turned out in all kinds of weather to make our sessions possible. We couldn’t survive without them, and I’m so pleased they will now be sheltered from whatever the elements have in store!”

Added Janine: “We really appreciate the efforts of everyone who has helped us achieve our goal. Their collective contributions mean that in the long term we will be able to offer many more riding opportunities for riders ranging from primary school to retirement age.

“Our new arena will enable us 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.

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

Members of Helen Atkin Group Buxton RDA – which was founded more than 30 years ago and has since worked in close partnership with Buxton Riding School to provide regular sessions for hundreds of High Peak riders – launched the appeal in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of national RDA. They 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 – later boosted by an extra £15,000.

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 – helped the group reach its target.

“We are very grateful to Tarmac Ltd – Buxton Lime and Cement’s Charity Committee, which supplied stone for the arena base and access road, and Buxton-based Lomas Distribution Ltd, which transported it to the site, both free of charge,” said Janine.

“We also owe a big thank you to local residents for their understanding despite the  noise and disruption generated by the work – their patience has been very much appreciated.”

The arena was erected by J. M. Milner Steel Framed Buildings Ltd of Stoke-on-Trent. Facilities include full disabled access and toilet, a remote-controlled hoist to help riders on to their horses and office and meeting space.

An added bonus has come from Norman Cheng of Hong Kong-based Strategic Sports, believed to be the biggest riding helmet manufacturers in the world, who heard about the work of Helen Atkin Group Buxton RDA through a mutual friend, Gerry O’Rourke. Norman has donated 50 new hats, all conforming to British safety standards, to help riders stay safe and look extra smart as they enjoy sessions in the arena.

Helen Atkin Group Buxton RDA would now like to hear from more disabled riders keen to take advantage of the new facilities, as well as potential volunteers willing to lend a hand in a wide range of roles. Anyone interested is invited to contact Janine on 07960 961605 or at janinefrostrda@gmail.com.

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