Hopes more young lives can be ‘redefined’ with transformation of dilapidated London site

  • A charity hopes to continue helping hundreds of disadvantaged young people when it moves to a new site at the end of the year.

    North London-based Strength & Learning Through Horses (SLTH), which provides mental health and education services for children and young people – and is home to 10 horses – must be out of its current Edgware site by December when the lease comes to an end. Although SLTH has received a lifeline from Barnet Council with the offer of a 25-year lease on a new premises, the charity must raise £150,000 to transform the “dilapidated” site.

    The new site at Barnet

    SLTH co-founder Rosie Bensley told H&H the charity provides services for around 500 children and young people from around London every year.

    “The young people that come to us are at the point of real crisis; where nothing else has worked and they are not going to school. Many won’t go and talk to a therapist and a lot of them are not leaving the house, but they will come and see us and the horses,” she said.

    “Horses are hugely powerful in engaging young people and helping break down their barriers. The way we work is the young people start to build a relationship with the horses, and through that they start to trust our staff. Over time this transfers to re-establishing trust in teachers at school, or the therapists and teams they’ve been referred by. We’re the stepping stone that helps to re-engage these young people back with society and education.”

    SLTH has a mixed herd of 10 horses, including Connemaras, warmbloods and former racehorses.

    “We look for horses that will reflect and show all sorts of different emotions and behaviours. What our horses have in common is they’re all very sensitive and highly attuned,” said Rosie.

    “I think people think of therapy horses needing to be very quiet, but that’s not what we want. We want our horses to give feedback to the young people.”

    Rosie said the charity’s work allows young people to “re-define” themselves.

    “We see huge improvements in confidence, self-esteem and well-being. Often a young person might come with the label of being a troublemaker, or the one with ADHD, or the anxious one, but when they come here those things don’t matter any more. They become the one that is really patient and good at helping the anxious horse, or the assertive one that is good with the bolshier horses,” she said.

    “It’s those skills that then help young people to identify themselves and they can transfer this back to other environments.”

    The charity has a long-term fundraising target of £600,000 to build a purpose-built equine assisted therapy centre at the 30-acre Barnet site including classrooms and workspaces, and barns for the horses. £100,000 has already been raised via the charity’s supporters, but in the short-term SLTH must raise £150,000 in order to move the horses by the end of the year and put in facilities to continue its work. The remaining funds will be raised in due course via further fundraising and grant applications.

    “The site is completely dilapidated and we really need to raise the money to get it up to scratch so we can move our services. The £150,000 will be used to install an arena, sort the fencing and parking, and put in some temporary classrooms,” said Rosie.

    “Martin Collins has agreed to sponsor us and they’re giving us a really big discount on an arena surface, which is coming from the London Global Champions Tour.”

    Rosie said raising the funds will be a challenge for the charity and the hope is to expand SLTH’s profile.

    “We don’t want to think about what happens if we don’t raise the money; we’d potentially have to close our doors until we manage to raise the money to get the site fit – or reduce the amount of work we do. Whatever way you look at it, it would mean young people missing out,” she said.

    “We’re well-known within the mental health services in London, but in terms of the general public nobody really knows we’re here because we’ve always just quietly got on with things and focused on the young people. Our current site is quite small and hasn’t allowed for us to invite the public down and show what we’re doing but we hope with changing sites we can raise general awareness, particularly in the equestrian population.”

    Rosie said SLTH would be “hugely grateful” for any donations or support.

    “If you’ve been around horses everyone knows how much they can help with our mental health, so to have people believe in a charity like us so we can keep helping young people, would mean the world,” she said.

    Donations can be made via the SLTH crowdfunding page.

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