The Birth of the Shelley Centre

In The Beginning - The Birth of the Shelley Centre by Jane Crowe.

Looking back on the files of papers that chart the building of our lovely Centre, it seems hard to believe that a stark agricultural building was at the core of our original plans 22 years ago.  Thankfully, Dick Moss, the Director of RDA at the time, firmly steered us away from such grand and expensive aspirations and suggested a more modest and homely approach.  This was the result – a safe and friendly place, nestling in the countryside, where everyone who enters is welcomed, nurtured and encouraged.

The Hadleigh Group had ridden at Frog Hall riding stables for ten years before we made the move to Shelley.  In 1979, under the enthusiastic chairmanship of the late Lady Hilda Swan, a small group of Helpers from the RDA group at Bentley had moved to the Brightwell’s at Hadleigh.  Paul was our Instructor and we hired their riding school ponies for one session a week to teach children from Belstead Special School. Over the years we became more ambitious, another session started, we raised money for an arena, and HRH Princess Anne paid us a visit. With three physiotherapists amongst the Helpers, and the irrepressible Kitty Wieschhoff an Instructor, we wanted to expand our services to more Riders.  Our lease was running out, and it was time to move on!

Mike and I had recently bought back a small parcel of the farm that had originally belonged to Shelley House and we both thought it would make a wonderful site for the new Centre. Planning permission – always difficult in an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, was granted on the strict understanding that it was never going to be a commercial concern, that it was for charity use only, and that RDA was about riding, not the Rural Development Agency!

We also discovered that as long as the Riders were not charged fees, the whole project would be exempt from VAT. What a bonus!

The complete estimate for the work was £65,000.  In those days it seemed unattainable, but Mike kindly offered to underwrite the cost (what faith!), and fund-raising could begin in earnest.  The Lloyd’s Community, family, friends and local businesses were incredibly generous, the RDA gave us a grant, and the formidable Fund-Raising Committee moved into action - and has not stopped for respite since.

It was a fine May morning when Ray Chisnell drove down the lane in his huge digger to begin carving out the drive.  As we crossed the fields to meet him, our lovely black Labrador, Tessa, began to have her puppies: it seemed a good omen.

Happily, ’89 was a lovely dry summer and the building programme went without a hitch.  Ray and his men made short work of the drive and preparing the site for the buildings and arena. The unseen essentials of water, electricity and telephone cables were laid down across the fields, and septic tanks and drainage systems were installed. Steven Arrowsmith began building the stables in July, and work began on the ‘Ride On’ surface soon after.  The newly sown paddocks needed fertilizing and fencing: so much to do before term began in September.

With the deadline looming, everyone worked tirelessly, but finally all was (almost) complete.  The ponies moved in and the first Riders found their way to the Centre.  The only job remaining was fencing off the arena, so our first riding sessions were out exploring the fields and discovering the joys of picking blackberries from the back of a pony – perhaps the very essence of the vision: ‘liberation through riding’.

Over the past 20 years The Shelley Centre has become recognized as a true Centre of Excellence.  With the mystical influence of horses and ponies at the core of everything we do, and the unstinting dedication of everyone involved, it is indeed a very special place to be.



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