W Bro Adrian Fox reports on a grant made by the London Freemasons Charity for vulnerable people.

Strength and Learning Through Horses is a specialist centre in North London that uses horses in both the education and therapy of vulnerable young people.

We work with children and adults with complex mental health and or learning disabilities, as well as those with experiences of trauma. Many come from deprived inner-city areas and have often experienced abuse and violence, which has affected their ability to take part in education or work and many experience social exclusion and isolation.

Our staff team is a dynamic mix of equine specialists, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, education professionals and dedicated volunteers. We are specialists in the field of equine-assisted therapy and education and research in this area.

In July 2020 we received a grant from the London Freemasons Charity of £5,000 just as we had re-opened our doors following the COVID Lockdown.

As a small but growing charity, we had a considerable challenge not only remaining open safely to our most vulnerable young people but managing an increasing waiting list and an underpressure staff and horse team.

This funding allowed us to deliver sessions in ways that we felt were most helpful to our clients during this time, like paying for extra staff to be able to see more people in a day which allows the specialist staff time to assess and manage the influx of referrals to reach our most vulnerable young people and get them outdoors and working with us. The funding also allowed schools to make arrangements for some isolated young people to attend.

Our experience of the impact of the lockdown on our young people was that, for many, it had exacerbated their mental health difficulties and made them more fearful of leaving the house. Being an outside organisation, our ability to maintain social distancing seemed to give parents and young people as well as referrers confidence to engage in activities.

Being able to support young people s education and therapy using our wonderful horses provided meaningful outdoor activities through which to touch base with peers, teachers and therapists during a time of crisis. Having somewhere to go where they felt safe, be outdoors and make contact with both horses and people was lifesaving during this time.

We expected the programmes to provide opportunities for young people to be involved in meaningful activities over the summer and to help prevent further disengagement from services or mental health crises. However, feedback from young people and referrers suggests that the work had a much broader impact on young people’s lives, with many re-engaging with education or building ambitions and hopes for the future. A further indicator of this positive impact was that many of these young people had returned this Autumn Term, and we will continue to keep our doors open to them in the current lockdown and the months ahead.

The below quotes indicate what our horses have taught our young people:

Thomas taught me that I shouldn’t give up on things that I find difficult .

Daisy taught me patience you really badly need it because you won’t get far in life without it .

Ghost she s stubborn, and she taught me to be patient and persistent .

Teacher Pupil Referral Unit.

The experience and insight gained from these sessions have been invaluable to our young people, in particular, the interaction with the horses and students cemented a trust and confidence that they may not have experienced before .

Coming to the horses has such a positive effect on the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. All of the staff are so kind and calm and make the students feel relaxed and confident around the horses, and they become so proud of themselves thanks to the constant encouragement and praise they receive from everyone .

Coming to the stables during the COVID-19 lockdown has been such an incredible opportunity for our students. It has helped to ease their anxiety of being out of their home environments and spending time with others and the horses .

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 43 January 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 43.