IN 2016/17, an application was made to the Voluntary Youth Service Capital Funding Scheme to carry out a major refurbishment of the Fort RDA Centre, Maghera, which would include replacing the existing asbestos cladding on the roof and walls, fixing the gutters, replacing windows and doors and upgrading the kitchen, toilets and electrics.
The principal contractors were to be Greystone Joinery and the project manager for the Education Authority was Chris Spratt. After various delays, the contractors were due to start work in February 2020, so the building had to be cleared and all the horses moved off site and obviously all RDA activity ceased. As it happened, they would have been forced to close soon afterwards due to Covid, so the timing was perfect.
The O’Hagan family deserve a mention here, as it fell to them to clear the building and put everything into storage, as well as being responsible for the horses’ welfare. Work progressed well and, by November 2020, they received the keys to the ‘new’ Centre and started to return everything to its proper place.
Chris Spratt proved to be a bit of a hero and pushed through some extras, which they were not expecting – such as the hoist, new flooring and repainting, and an upgraded disabled access front door, as well as a changing area and new planters.
A recent visit showed that the place looks amazingly smart and is sure to be good for at least another 40 years. The biggest change was the installation of the roof lights and the LED lighting, which make a huge difference. Also the improved access door to the stable area is much safer for everyone.
The volunteers then faced the mammoth task of returning everything to its proper place, having been delayed further by the winter lockdown in 2020/21, and bringing the horses back into work and fitness after their enforced holiday of nearly 18 months. Inevitably, a couple of old friends have not returned to work and the centre are on the lookout for replacements – so, if you know of any sound and healthy equines, which might be suitable, please contact them at: email@example.com.
It is to everyone’s credit that they were able to re-open in the autumn, albeit like most groups at reduced capacity, but the riders are obviously delighted to be back and, in March, a group of 10 children passed their Grade 1 riding and horse care certificates, examined by Regional Coach Christine Hankin. This is a great start and they have plans for future expansion, which include working with more local schools.
A big thank you to the Department of Education for providing the funding; Chris Spratt for making it happen and the O’Hagan family and the Fort volunteers and, of course, Sean McKenna for all their hard work.
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