Sasha Thorbek-Hooper opens the stable doors on Greatwood, one of the charities supported by Octopus Giving with fundraising and volunteer days. What’s your mission?
Greatwood changes lives and creates fulfilling futures for disadvantaged children, young people, adults, and former racehorses, through equine-facilitated learning. It challenges perceptions of success and failure, in a secure and nurturing environment. We rescue, rehabilitate and rehome vulnerable former racehorses on a farm in Wiltshire. We also run education programmes on the farm for disadvantaged children, young people and adults who have mental, emotional or social challenges, learning or educational difficulties, or physical disabilities.
What type of activities do you do?
We combine animal welfare with educating disadvantaged children, young people and adults with special educational needs and disability (SEND). Our educational programmes are designed for people with cognitive, physical, emotional and social challenges or disabilities. The aim is to make a real difference to the learners’ future lives and careers, as well as facilitating their social mobility. At the same time, we’re providing those horses that couldn’t be re-homed previously, with a useful occupation.
How did Greatwood get started?
reatwood takes its name from the beautiful old Devon farm where our founders originally started their work. Helen and Michael Yeadon began rescuing and rehabilitating former racehorses in 1993. Five years later they founded the Greatwood Charity to carry on the work they started.
In 2006, we piloted ‘HorsePower’, a life skills and emotional literacy programme developed for young people with specific educational and emotional needs. Greatwood had now successfully developed many highly acclaimed educational programmes and helped over 2,000 young people from Wiltshire and adjoining counties. In 2012 we were accredited by Wiltshire Council as an ‘Alternative Provider of Personalised Learning’ and in 2015 as a ‘Provider of Positive Activities for Young People’.
Has Octopus Giving made a difference to what you do?
Greatwood has thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with Octopus Giving, in particular meeting so many energetic and dynamic people. It has been insightful seeing how a forward-thinking company such as Octopus operates, in particular its approach to corporate social responsibility. The money that Octopus Giving has donated since 2015 has equated to 4,480 hours of teaching, helping us to deliver education to hundreds of young people. And that doesn’t even include all the painting, weeding and poo picking that the Octopus volunteers have undertaken too.
The multi-faceted support that Octopus Giving provides is exemplary and should be used as a model by others. THANK YOU doesn’t even come close!
What are you working on right now?
We’re developing a series of new pilot educational programmes. HOPE (Horses Opportunities Progression Employment) will focus on addressing the effects of trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder) on among others the serving military, veterans, reservists, emergency services workers and their families.
Although tailored to the needs of individuals, the HOPE programmes will fall broadly into two interchangeable areas, to improve emotional and physical wellbeing, and the support career recovery. These well-developed programmes of equine-assisted education will, among other aims, look to raise self-confidence and personal esteem, reduce anxiety and depressive thinking, help create a sense of purpose and motivation and enhance transferrable employability skills.
What things do you worry about?
The long-term future of Greatwood Charity at its current operating level is being challenged due to the expiry of the farm lease in 2024. It would be difficult to find suitable, affordable alternative premises in the area. It would cost about £750,000 (a year’s income) to move and re-create our current facilities.
Lease restrictions at present mean we’re also unable to invest in developing our aims and objectives, such as building residential accommodation to enable young people and adults from further afield to benefit from our programmes. So, we have to start addressing this challenge now, alongside our everyday work with horses and people.
What one thing would get you closer to achieving your mission?
Finding supporters who can help secure a longer-term lease of the farm, or even the property freehold, is a top priority for the next two years.
What makes you positive about the future?
We have strong leadership from our two founders, and all our staff are adaptable, skilled, hardworking and committed to our mission. Our finances are in good shape too. Our costs are well-controlled, a high proportion of our income is unrestricted and we have adequate reserves.
We also have a number of active, influential supporters and patrons. For example, in 2016 the Solicitor General, the Right Honourable Robert Buckland QC visited and became a patron.
What are you most proud of?
There’s a lot to be proud of. We were the first charity in the UK to use former racehorses to educate young people, and we remain the only charity without criteria for accepting former racehorses. Since 2006, we’ve helped more than 2,000 young people, and since 1993 we’ve helped more than 1,500 horses. The Greatwood story has even been immortalised in print: ‘When Sophie Met Darcy Day’ published by Harper Collins, and we were honoured to receive a private visit from Her Majesty The Queen in 2015. But what I’m most proud is that Greatwood changes lives and creates futures.
How can people get involved?
We welcome volunteers throughout the year, who can come down for the day to help with the maintenance of the farm, outside classroom and our sensory garden. Our volunteers like to get their hands dirty, pick up a paintbrush (or a pitchfork) and get involved, especially during the spring and summer months. You can also support Greatwood by attending our Annual Raceday at Newbury Racecourse in March or donating a prize for the silent auction. Visit Greatwood Charity for more information.