Words by Catherine Entwistle
Nobody would ever expect to stroll down a residential street in south west London and find horses living there, but that’s exactly what you’ll see if you take a wander down Park Lane in Teddington. However, the future of the stables hung in the balance when the landlord announced he wasn’t renewing the lease on the building beyond May 2021, but thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Teddington's horses are here to stay.
When Natalie O’Rourke, manager of the Park Lane Stables, heard about the expiration of the lease, she was devastated. However, all too aware of the importance of the stables, she knew closure was not an option and so she launched the Save Our Stables crowdfunding campaign and worked day and night to reach a whopping £1 million (and more!) in order to preserve this special place.
The task of raising such a huge amount of money in two months would seem impossible to a lot of people, but not to Natalie. Thanks to her steely determination and passion for improving the lives of disabled people through horses, Park Lane Stables will be able to continue doing amazing work for many more years to come.
The wonderful news was understandably overwhelming for Natalie and everybody at Park Lane. “I was in genuine shock and it took me off my feet for a couple of days,” she says, her astonishment still palpable.
Exceeding the £1 million target is a huge achievement and shows how many people across the country got behind the campaign in such a short space of time and genuinely wanted to help save the stables. “We are so delighted that everyone loves Park Lane as much as we do and that so many people got behind us to support us. It is really amazing that our version of ordinary is deemed extraordinary by so many.” It seems that even The Queen heard the incredible news and has now invited some of the volunteers to meet her horses at the Royal Mews.
An incredibly important place
Although not from a “horsey background”, manager Natalie has been riding since she was six years old, and her love for the horses and visitors is in the very fibres of the stables. With the help of a team of BHS trained instructors and horse-mad volunteers, she runs an award winning and ever-growing RDA (Riding for the Disabled) facility as well as a busy Pony Club. They offer riding, stable activities, and horse care along with plenty of friendly faces for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties.
Park Lane’s proximity to Teddington Station means it’s easily accessed by those with disabilities, and this was one of the reasons why saving the stables from redevelopment was so important. The positive impact that the horses have on people’s lives should not be underestimated. Natalie explains that lockdown was an especially challenging time for many of the RDA participants who couldn’t partake in their usual activities. Throughout the pandemic, Natalie and her team have worked tirelessly to continue offering support in the form of Zoom sessions with the horses, home pony visits and ‘wellbeing in wellies sessions’, knowing that the horses are a lifeline to so many people. “It just lifted them and had a really big impact. A lot of them are so socially isolated that the only time they came out of their home was to come here,” she shares.
As well as offering riding lessons, Park Lane also run Hippotherapy sessions, which uses the movement and rhythm of the horse as part of a therapeutic treatment for those who don’t meet the minimum physical riding requirements.
For many though, just having the opportunity to spend time around the horses has a hugely positive impact on their mental health, as there's something truly magical about these gentle giants. The comforting smell of the horses along with the feel of their hairy coats and the sound of hooves are all very sensory, which is what makes them such great animals for those with disabilities and additional needs.
Looking to the future
Horses have lived at the stables since 1830, when it was the site of Teddington Fire Station and fire engines were horse-drawn carriages, so it has always had an important part to play in the community. Being able to stay in their Teddington home and continue to offer people support through horses means everything to the Park Lane team.
When the stables reached and then exceeded their target of £1 million after working so hard for it, the whole team were over the moon, but it also took a while for it to sink in. “We are still pinching ourselves, but the relief is indescribable,” Natalie says joyously.
The atmosphere at Park Lane Stables on Thursday 18th February after they had exceeded their fundraising target was surreal; just like something out of a fairy-tale. Car horns tooted as they drove past, people stopped in the street to hand over donations and congratulate Natalie and the Park Lane team on their fantastic achievement too. It was exactly the sort of positive news everyone needed during this otherwise gloomy time.“I still can’t believe we’ve actually done it," Natalie beams, reflecting on that day. "It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
So, what does the future hold for Park Lane now that the stables are safe from redevelopment? “It means security first and foremost. Our RDA participants have a forever home and our staff with additional needs have a secure job," Natalie explains. "We are so excited for the future and cannot wait for the purchase to go through.” With the extra money raised, Natalie and the team also hope to be able to purchase land and build an arena, where they will be able to teach RDA riding lessons.
We can’t wait to see Teddington's ponies enjoying beautiful Bushy Park and it will be wonderful to celebrate this magnificent news by raising a glass (or a carrot) at Park Lane once Covid restrictions are lifted.
Find out more about Park Lane Stables