Every month the Brixton Bonus provides revenue for the Brixton Fund, our new micro-grants scheme in Brixton for projects looking to create employment, challenge injustice and create community benefit.
Ebony Horse Club, a youth club and community horse riding centre based in Brixton, is the sort of group that would be eligible to apply for funds.
Ebony Horse Club uses horses to improve the education, life skills and aspirations of young people growing up in some of the most disadvantaged communities in south London. They teach riding and horse care, take groups to outdoor events and on residential trips, and mentor children experiencing significant challenges in their everyday lives.
B£ met up with Letty Porter, EHC’s Engagement and Funding Manager. Letty grew up in Lewisham near a riding school, but her interest in horses didn’t connect with her background in charity work until 2007: “One day I woke up to the news of a murder of a young man in Brixton. Later that day on my way to Brixton station, I happened to walk past a police cordon and realized it was where the tragedy had happened. The experience really stayed with me. I found out the young man was Nathan Foster and that he was a member of Ebony Horse Club – that’s how I first heard of it. I got in touch, said I had a horse grooming kit I hadn’t touched for years, and also that I had seven years’ experience in charity work and fundraising. Eventually I joined the small team as Campaign Officer and, save for a break to do a Master’s Degree in 2014, I’ve been at EHC ever since, working on engagement, fundraising, and social media.”
“Ebony Horse Club started very small, it was first created on the Moorlands Estate in 1996 and initially had about six members. There are people who are now in college who started here when they were 8 years old! By 2010 we had 50 members, and launched a fundraising campaign to build the community riding centre. We raised £1.6 million and opened the current premises in October 2011.”
“Really, it’s a youth club with horses, not only a riding club. We teach horse riding and care, but also do all sorts of other activities for young people, like workshops and trips. The access to horses and riding teaches key life skills such as teamwork, commitment, respect, and empathy, and the contact with animals is very beneficial, particularly to young people on the autistic spectrum.”
“In terms of riding we have classes on all levels, and as sports equipment is expensive we try to provide everything that’s necessary, like boots and hats. For individual members, that is young people from the area who either sign up or are referred to us and attend weekly classes throughout the year, group lessons run evenings and weekends according to ability: usually beginner classes on Saturdays and intermediate ones on Sundays. Monday is a rest day for the horses, and between Tuesday and Friday we do a mix of member classes in the evenings and daytime classes for school groups.”
“We usually offer schools 6 week series of classes, and if the kids enjoy them they can sign up as members. Ebony Horse Club specialises in accommodating young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and welcomes those with special educational needs and some medical conditions. We are not a Riding for the Disabled centre, but we do have a specialist instructor who is RDA-qualified. The majority of those with special needs are fully integrated within our regular classes.”
“Young people find us through their schools – most of them primary schools as secondaries are less keen to let their students off during the day to do things. We also work with social services and Lambeth Council who can refer young people to us. But a lot find out about us through word of mouth, or simply passing by. We’ve got more of a profile and a stronger presence, especially compared to the time when the club didn’t have the current premises and was just tucked away in an office on the Loughborough Estate. And we are still in a place that feels very peaceful, not hectic like a lot of Brixton. It’s a blessing and a curse, meaning that probably even more people could know about us if we were located somewhere more visible, but it would be overwhelming, both in terms of interest and the feeling of the place. Where we are now, you can just walk in and feel safe.”
“At the moment there is a waiting list to become a member, and as a community organisation we prioritise membership for young people who live within Coldharbour and the Brixton area. The minimum age for riding is 8, and we accept new riders up until the age of 19. But because more support is needed for those with needs and from unsettled backgrounds, in the transition from school to college or employment, if you’re already a member you can ride with us till the age of 25. At the moment our oldest member is 21. We have a relatively low turnover so we get to know our young people really well. Many of those with special needs are actually in mainstream education, so their needs are often not met. And a lot come from difficult backgrounds and deal with problems such as parental drug and alcohol abuse and neglect. Many are dealing with bereavement, the loss of family or friends. Through the horse riding and other activities we really get to know them well, and can intervene when we notice problems, put support in place for them and their families. So it’s really not all about the horses.”
“Horses are a big part of Ebony Horse Club though! We’ve got nine of them: Zigzag, Rocky, Blue, Archie, Joe, Shaney, Beau, Buddy and Pedro. Two are ponies, and they all range in size from small to tall. That’s important to have a variety so that we can accommodate children of different ages and heights. It’s a difficult task to source the horses: we can’t have any young ones, they need to be mature enough – minimum 6-9, ideally 10 years old. They have to be reliable but also have a spark, to engage our more experienced riders. Zigzag is a rescue horse, and she’s acclimatised really well here. Blue is the tallest one. Pedro is our Shetland pony. The other pony, Archie, just started growing a winter coat – he’ll be twice his size soon! We’ve got a standard riding arena, and we treat riding seriously, it’s not so that the kids can simply sit on a horse… We want them to get something out of it, we expect them to commit and progress, prepare them to ride outdoors. Once they get advanced they can learn jumping, too. We organise residential camps, which for some are the only opportunity to go on holiday, and other trips – not all of them related to horse riding, like a recent one to the Sky Academy. If we see young people developing other interests, we nurture them. We talk to them about their aspirations. This year ten members of Ebony Horse Club will have accessed higher education through the Club. Recently, two young people have started their studies at Hadlow College, University of Greenwich. One is based in Greenwich and the other near Tonbridge. At Ebony Horse Club we also run workshops relevant to young people, like one about healthy relationships, where they can learn to respect and support each other, and be able to talk about things that are important to them that they don’t feel they can bring up in school, like sexuality, or dealing with misogyny. We have a new youth worker who is organising those and she is full of ideas, so we expect this aspect of EHC to develop.”
“Following the raising of funds for the community riding centre, I think we suffer from an unfair perception of being a rich charity, when in fact we’re not. We run an incredibly tight ship, but consistently raise less than our average annual cost of £360,000. We are a team of six staff members and 40 volunteers. The revenue from our very reduced fees doesn’t even cover 10% of our total budget. We offer classes at a rate of £7 for 30 minutes, while the commercial rate is £20, because we think it’s crucial that the classes are accessible to the young people in the local area. We waive fees for those who can’t afford even that reduced fee – we never turn anyone down. Currently we have 12 young people who have assisted places and we expect this to rise.”
“Any additional funding goes towards supporting young people. At the moment we don’t have means to develop, to take on new horses, and our waiting list is between 6-12 months. We need money to feed the horses, to buy riding equipment, to continue running volunteer programs and activities. We greatly appreciate donations – you can sponsor a particular horse if you like. Recently we got a call from a man whose wife loves Shetland ponies, and as a birthday treat he wanted to arrange for her to come round and pet our Shetland pony Pedro. People appreciate the contact with horses, it’s really calming.”
“Horse riding is not an activity that’s associated with Brixton, and many people don’t even think it’s possible here. And yet we see so many people come here and feel safe, nurtured. Many say this is a place where they belong, a refuge. This goes for the staff and volunteers too. We’re all family.”
To support Ebony Horse Club, donate here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/donate/makeDonationForCharityDisplay.action?charityId=1000730