Desperate Scottish riding schools speak out over lack of support *H&H Plus*

  • Scottish riding schools are facing all the same challenge as those in England and Wales during this third lockdown, but there are different challenges when it comes to funding. H&H finds out more

    DESPERATE Scottish riding schools have spoken out over the lack of financial support as they face their third lockdown in 12 months.

    The Scottish government has a range of support options for businesses, but as riding schools do not have to close under current restrictions, they are not eligible.

    Horsescotland chairman Grant Turnbull explained that there are two grants: the business interruption grant, for those that have to close, and the business restriction grant, for those that have had to make material changes to the way the business is operating.

    “The difficulty with the equestrian community is that equestrian centres are allowed to stay open,” Mr Turnbull told H&H.

    “It’s great that riding schools can give one-to-one lessons, but by being on that list, they’re not eligible for the funds. Some have taken the opportunity to give those one-to-one lessons but for others, it’s not worth it, but then they don’t get the support.”

    Mr Turnbull said he hopes most riding schools are affiliated to the British Horse Society (BHS), the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) or Trekking and Riding Scotland (TRSS). He said riding schools should approach these member bodies, and then Horsescotland can act as the sector’s “collective voice”, submitting their concerns to Sport Scotland and ultimately the Scottish government.

    “From my experience, that’s by far the best way to get the ear of the right people,” he said.

    Mr Turnbull praised the efforts of campaigner Lesley McCourt, who has been lobbying councils to try to get riding schools the help they need, and conducting a survey to find out how badly businesses have been affected.

    Lesley told H&H she has been contacting councillors, members of the Scottish parliament and government departments but has had no luck in securing more support.

    “People are falling through the gaps,” she said. “One of my friends has raised about £4,000 by various means but her costs in December were £8,000. This is a marginal business to be in anyway and these circumstances are disastrous.”

    Respondents to Lesley’s survey said they are relying on savings, raffling lessons and running fundraising pages to stay afloat. Many were told they were not eligible for support during this lockdown. Of 27 businesses, most had applied for temporary closure grants but were refused; most had had support during the first lockdown but nothing since.

    “One friend has had clients paying for lessons in advance but when they have their lessons, there won’t be that money coming in,” Lesley said. “It’s a perfect storm; an absolute nightmare.”

    Lesley praised British Dressage Scotland and feed manufacturer Spillers for their support.

    Alison Clinton of Phoenix Riding School, West Calder, told H&H she felt she had to close to comply with the “stay at home” message. She has been very grateful for her father William’s help with the horses and as he has been selling his paintings to help raise funds.

    Mr Clinton said that as her daughter rents her yard, she was not eligible for the grant that was paid to businesses with rateable values last spring, and she has not been eligible for support recently.

    “Alison’s costs can range from £4,000 to £8,000 a month. She applied for the self-employed grant but only got a couple of thousand, and that doesn’t go far,” he said. “If you weren’t making a good profit, you get nothing, but if you’re making millions, you’ll get a grant; it seems a bit lopsided. We will survive, thanks to the fundraising and donations, but it won’t be comfortable.”

    As H&H went to press, we were told Alison had been awarded some financial support.

    Caroline Buckle of Tower Farm in Edinburgh has received the business interruption grant of £2,000 every four weeks.

    She told H&H she is very grateful, but “it still doesn’t touch the sides”.

    “The problem is there’s a discrepancy in Scotland; some councils are paying and some aren’t,” she said. “I’ve part-furloughed some staff but wages are still costing me £550 a week, feed £600 to £800, water and power about £400 each, and there’s insurance and all the other costs; it’s not good. I think as a community we need to lobby to get business rates reduced as they’re ridiculous, to get a reprieve and help get businesses back on their feet.”

    ABRS chairman Jane Williams told H&H the situation for riding schools is “pretty grim”.

    “Some will come out the other side, but with less assets, cash gone, some will have had loans that then have to be paid for,” she said. “In the past year, many have only had five months’ trading, and it’s a low-margin business anyway.”

    The ABRS is working on ways to help people reduce costs, and emphasising to the Government the need for more support; Ms Williams said some MPs are on side to push for help.

    “We need to redouble our efforts, and if people are worried, they need to write to their MPs about it,” she said. “We recognise there are scarce resources to go round, and the Government is in a difficult position, but this will damage the industry. Hopefully we can get as many riding schools through this as possible.”

    A Scottish government spokesman said: “Since the start of the pandemic we have allocated more than £3 billion to support businesses across Scotland. The Strategic Framework Business Fund provides monthly grants for businesses required by law to close or to significantly modify their operations.

    “In addition, our £60 million local authority discretionary fund is empowering local authorities to direct funding to specific groups or sectors within their areas. The use of this funding is entirely at the discretion of local authorities based on the specific needs of their local economies.”

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