Volunteers and funding key as Riding for the Disabled recovers from Covid

  • H&H speaks to the new Riding for the Disabled Association chair of trustees, to find out how the charity and its groups are recovering from the effects of Covid, and what are the focuses for the future

    THE Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has welcomed a new chair of trustees as the organisation strives to help groups out of the pandemic, and then looks to the future.

    Last week the charity appointed Rachel Medill, a former event rider and founder of vulnerable children’s charity Ride High, whose immediate focus is supporting RDA groups to return to full capacity.

    Ms Medill told H&H the pandemic had been “debilitating” for the organisation. Since the first lockdown, only 50% of RDA groups have been able to reopen and only 15% of the charity’s pre-Covid participants have returned so far. H&H has reported on issues faced by groups, including many members and volunteers having to shield during the pandemic, and social distancing issues for riders who require help mounting and dismounting or sidewalkers.

    It is hoped all remaining RDA groups will reopen by September, and in the meantime initiatives have been launched including “Tea with a Pony” for individuals with dementia, and “The Grand Day Out”, funded by the Peoples’ Postcode Lottery, where groups host outdoor activities such as picnics.

    “In many cases the pandemic has been the most terrible experience, but it has also brought us insight into some new things we might be able to do to help more people,” said Ms Medill.

    Looking forward, Ms Medill said the key areas she hopes to focus on are raising awareness of volunteering opportunities and increasing funding.

    “Volunteering can take on so many forms; helping run a group, administration or being a treasurer or helping with fundraising. Every RDA group has its own trustees, and being a member is great fun. You can bring skills you’ve learnt in your professional career to really help,” she said.

    “Funding is another big issue. If we can show the profound impact RDA has on peoples lives – not just in the short term but in the long term; it’s about building self-confidence and skills, as well as physical coordination – I think that will help bring funding at national and local level.”

    Ms Medill also hopes to encourage more coaches into the RDA.

    “We’re going to be looking at how we use our training centre in Warwickshire to provide more training for coaches as well as for those running our initiatives like Tea with a Pony,” she said.

    RDA group Horsehills in Surrey, which closed during the first lockdown, reopened two weeks ago and is hosting weekly sessions for one of its two usual school groups. Chair Trudi Eustance told H&H that while being closed had been “difficult”, the group is looking forward to welcoming its other school group back in September.

    “We’ve struggled for volunteers as some went on to do different things while we were closed, such as helping at food banks, but we hope more will return in September,”

    she said.

    “We’ve had to buy more equipment, and we’ve invested a lot into training but we were lucky as we received some donations. What I think would disappoint everybody is if we get another spike [in Covid cases] and go into another lockdown.”

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