Community horse riding school, Washington Riding Centre, has been hard hit by funding shortages during the pandemic, but a lifeline donation from Miller Homes is helping it to bounce back stronger.

Since last March lockdown closures have seen the majority of the centre’s income dry up, and it didn’t qualify for a support package from the Government. Just at the right time, it was chosen as a beneficiary of Miller Homes’ Community Outreach Project, receiving a much-needed donation of £2,500.

As well as helping to fund the day-to-day running of the centre, the horse riding school is using the rest of the donation to create a new sensory garden for its riders to enjoy, which will be completed in spring.

Washington Riding Centre is best known for its sessions for disabled riders and children with special educational needs, welcoming up to 150 of these riders from the local community and schools each week pre-Covid. The centre hopes the sensory garden will make their return to riding even more enjoyable, and help to make up for the time they’ve missed during lockdown.

The new garden will transform one of the centre’s empty fields into a sensory trail which visitors can follow on horseback or by walking, and will be fully wheelchair accessible. Designed to stimulate the senses, the garden will feature lots of things to see, touch, smell and hear. There will be different types of surfaces to walk over which will also create a range of sounds, solar powered water features, bird boxes, things to read and different smells from flowers and planting.

A contribution from The National Lottery Community Fund is also making the creation of the sensory garden possible.

The centre has had to make some difficult decisions over the last 12-months to survive beyond the pandemic. Staffing levels have been reduced while the centre isn’t able to open to the public and income has reduced, and a number of the horses have been temporarily rehomed with friends of the centre. With the Government’s roadmap announcement, there is now light at the end of the tunnel for the team who hope to reopen the centre from 29 March.

Kate Parnaby, operational manager at Washington Riding Centre, said: “It’s been a hard year but we’re still here and ready to safely reopen to our community at the end of March. We’re really fortunate that we’re going to be able to introduce riders to our new sensory garden in the spring thanks to the generous donations from Miller Homes and The National Lottery Community Fund.

“Our sessions for riders with disabilities and special educational needs are such a big part of what we do. It’s amazing to see them make connections with the horses and benefit from being around them as horses have such a positive influence on people’s mood and behaviour. We’ve really missed this and know our riders have too. By creating the sensory garden we’re making a space that will stimulate the senses of these riders and enhance their experience even more. It’ll be somewhere that all of our visitors can enjoy.

“If safe to do so we hope that the local community and friends of the centre can get involved in the final stages of bringing the garden to life, but if it’s not possible, it’ll be ready for them to explore soon. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to the centre. We’ll start with smaller numbers and gradually build on them. We’ll do our best to create a safe environment where people can come together and spend time with the horses.”

Washington Riding Centre was chosen as a beneficiary of Miller Homes North East’s Community Outreach Project, which set out to support community organisations in the region which had been hard hit by the pandemic.

Patrick Arkle, regional managing director at Miller Homes North East, added: “We’re all about creating communities so were drawn to Washington Riding Centre as it benefits its local community greatly and positively impacts the lives of its riders who get so much from spending time with the horses. We’d be lost without community organisations like this and want to see them thrive beyond the pandemic. The sensory garden sounds like a wonderful addition to the centre, and we’re pleased that the funds donated can help to bring it to life. We can’t wait to see it.”

For more information on Miller Homes and its developments of new homes in the North East, visit www.millerhomes.co.uk/locations/north-east-of-england.aspx.