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Business & Economy

COVID-19 recovery grant gives equestrian centre a jump start

A family-run, Whitley Bay-based equestrian centre is galloping forward thanks to a COVID-19 recovery grant from Open North Foundation.

The £1500 will be used to train members of the ten-strong team whose skills need updating following the pandemic and large amounts of time spent on furlough.

Murton Equestrian Centre is a five-star licensed riding centre owned by Derek and Leigh Belbin, which prides itself in offering riding lessons in a safe and relaxed environment, for adults and children.

With 25 horses, it has a large indoor arena with a spacious viewing gallery, an outdoor arena and a level show jumping paddock. With facilities that offer all year-round riding, the centre is a highly commended by the British Horse Society (BHS).

Staff are all fully trained to offer riding instruction at all levels, including BHS stages and the centre is a BHS approved livery centre and provides quality stabling and facilities catering for individual needs.

Leigh Belbin, said: “We have over 2000 people who come to the centre and the age range goes from four-years-old to over 70. It was very difficult for us during the first lockdown in 2020, as we had to deprive so many people of the opportunity to ride which, in turn, affected their wellbeing and mental health.

“Indeed, since the rules relaxed, we have seen the formation of a new, 30-strong group of people, who come to the centre to specifically support their mental health. Some may ride but others come simply to feel better in themselves by being around the horses and helping in the stables.

“The other big issue we faced was not being able to take advantage of the furlough scheme when we had no income coming in. We had to keep them all at work as the horses needed to be looked after and that was a real financial strain, which we had to try and manage.

“It was, therefore, important we looked at any form of financial help available to us and so we applied to Open North Foundation for grant support.”

Open North Foundation was established in July 2020 and is a direct response from the business community in the North East to provide financial and in-kind support to small businesses in the region directly hit by the pandemic. It relies on the generosity of companies and organisations to provide donations and has a structure of a board of directors, ambassadors and supporters, all of whom provide their services free of charge.

Leigh, added: “We are moving forward but the winter days are here and the risk of lockdowns remain. That said, we are committed to staff upgrading their skills, which suffered during the height of the pandemic. We have set exceptionally high standards, as witnessed by the accreditations we have achieved.

“The training, which will be paid for with the £1500 grant, is hugely important and will ensure we are here as a vital part of the community for many years to come.”

Richard Swart, chair of the Open North Foundation, said: “Many congratulations to Murton Equestrian Centre on its COVID-19 recovery grant.

“The management team have clearly built a highly respected, much-loved facility that is used by so many people.

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on small to medium-sized businesses that are so important to our regional economic and social eco-system.

“These brilliant, innovative companies, need support and help to survive. The directors of Open North Foundation all come from the business community and understand the huge challenges that many companies have faced.

“It is wonderful to learn that the centre is moving forward and upgrading the skills of its team. I would like to thank the many businesses and individuals who have donated to Open North Foundation, they should be very proud of their generosity and the very real and positive impact it is having on firms such as Murton Equestrian Centre.”

Companies impacted by the pandemic can apply for an Open North Foundation grant via