Behind the scenes at Barton Hill Centre, Kenchester

Hereford Times: One of the guests at Barton Hill Centre enjoying getting to know the pony a little better. Buy this photo One of the guests at Barton Hill Centre enjoying getting to know the pony a little better.

THE directors of the Barton Hill Centre work outside and they like to think outside the box too.

Partners in life and business, ex-teachers Julie Milsom and John Trimble put their future security and that of their three children to one side in 2007 when they remortgaged their house to launch an animal-based therapy unit for all ages with needs ranging from depression to severe physical impairments.

It was a risky investment but one that’s paying off as the not-for-profit firm looks towards Community and Trust Company status in its First year breaking even.

Julie said: “When you have a family, sometimes you think ‘what am I doing?’ but every day something happens with one of our users – a smile or a different movement – and it starts to come back to you, why you are doing it.”

Both do it because they felt there was little therapeutically for those with severe needs. Julie combined animal management work at Holme Lacy College to begin with but now devotes all her time to Barton Hill, albeit for minimal pay.

2009 sees a further turning point with the new status in sight – which as a kind of half-charity means bids for EU funding could be made – and three parttime employees introduced so activities for up to 20 daily visitors can continue four days a week.

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The centre has also secured a £5,000 grant from Nexus through Community First. The money will help build a public changing room for disabled people and, once complete, will be one of only three in the whole of Herefordshire On a day-to-day basis, Julie and John’s professional backgrounds mean horse-led behavioural studies, for example, are relayed in depth to senior clinical psychologists who incorporate the work into patient plans and advise on future sessions.

Other schemes include simple animal contact for multiple sclerosis sufferers who find stroking them improves strength and movement.

“I think people don’t realise the depth of what we do,” Julie said.

“I think they think it’s a nice day out, but it’s actually a very therapeutic experience.”

Either way, it’s a practice that’s clearly working.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy was impressed on a recent visit and new employee and former visitor Alice Shepherd from Ross has just repaid her new bosses for helping with difficulties in her life by raising vital funds.

She and dog Taz walked the Isle of Arran to raise £2,000 for a Wheels of the Woods appeal to bring wheelchair access to 20 acres of nearby woodland via a grow-through track that won’t affect appearances.

John said: “We hope to start work on pathways soon and everyone here at Barton Hill will benefit from Alice’s efforts – we are very proud of her.”

Similarly, former volunteer David Robinson, 25, who was born with part of his brain missing, was able to develop such a bond with the animals at Barton Hill that, following his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage in July, mourners raised £600 to create a sensory garden in remembrance of the St Briavels man’s contribution.

“His father and I are delighted that Barton Hill are going to call the new sensory garden David's Garden,” his mum Mariana said.

“This was an important part of his life.”

Future steps now include financing updates to changing facilities so disabled visitors can stay on site longer, the development of an organic garden which is fuelled by animal waste and to simply keep going with the help of various open days and several invaluable volunteers like David.

“You have a sense of commitment in your life, and I just knew I had to do this,”

Julie said.

“We really do value everybody’s input.”

For more information on the centre, visit bartonhill.co.

uk/daycare.php, email julie.milsom@hotmail.com or call 07791 026880.

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