Like many other charities, 2020 was a tough year for the Centre. Its income and funding sources stopped overnight, but the continued cost of looking after its animals and maintaining services meant that expenditure didn’t drop. With the Centre unable to open during lockdowns, unfortunately redundancies followed and volunteers couldn’t attend, frustrating the Centre’s ability to reach people at a time when need for its services was at its highest.

“We were inundated with calls asking for help, but at the same time there were real fears the centre could close,” explains its manager Claire Schimmer. “Our skeleton team has been doing everything and although the profit from our able-bodied riding school helps to cover our costs, there’s so much more that we want to do, because the need is only growing.”

The Centre is turning difficulty to hope, however. The team’s belief is that time with animals and a connection to nature can improve people’s wellbeing both physically and mentally. Their aim going forwards is to make the Centre more relevant than ever, creating connection with the local community and becoming even more inclusive, encouraging more people access their space and activities.

A small boy with a pony and an adult
The Centre in action

“We are regularly contacted by people asking for help,” says Claire, “including schools with children at risk of exclusion or families of those with sensory or special educational needs and we want to be able to respond. Expanding was always our long-term plan, but lockdown has accelerated our ambitions. We want to secure our long-term future and set ourselves up to help even more people benefit from what we offer.”

Work has already begun to support these plans. A local resident has developed a Forest School business in an area of woodland owned by the Avon Centre, enabling a joint ponies and nature-based activities programme. A new project at the Centre has been set up called ‘Beyond the Gait’, which offers non-riders an opportunity to spend time with one of four Shetland ponies. All rehomed from other animal rescue charities, these ponies offer a calm, therapeutic environment, which is accessible and open to all.

The Centre has seen the positive impact that this can have - both for those with additional needs and those looking to improve their wellbeing. Recently the team welcomed Audrey, a 93-year-old, who visited the ponies as part of her birthday celebrations, walking one of them on a lead rein. If funding allows this project will grow, with upgraded facilities to support more visits.

“The Avon Centre offers a vital resource and it’s great to see its work develop and grow,” says Phillip Bate, Regional Team Lead at Triodos Bank UK. “The pandemic has highlighted social inequality and the problems caused by isolation and it’s heartening to see our customers working to adapt and create real impact for their communities.”

About the Avon Centre

To find out more about the Centre, its work and the funding campaign, visit

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