How a farm in Worcestershire is helping to support older people in Greater Bristol

The St Monica Trust (SMT) is recognised as a leading provider of retirement accommodation and care in a range of different settings. Since 1922, SMV has been engaged by SMT to manage its endowment fund, the annual income of which provides financial stability to the trust to continue its important work.

Much of the fund’s value is in the ownership of large agricultural estates which are leased and managed by tenant farmers, often with the tenancies being passed down from generation to generation. Once a year the SMV Estates Committee visits estates owned by SMT in order to meet and support the tenant farmers, finding out how they are managing and working their land and farms, exploring diversification, looking after the environment and interacting with their local communities.

This year’s visit included the Croome Estate in Worcestershire, where this Red Tractor certified farmland is managed by tenant farmer Stephen Watkins. To diversify the use of land in a way that supports the local community, Stephen provides a piece of land to be used by Kingsleighs Equestrian Centre, run by Deni Harper-Adams.

Deni approached Stephen 17 years ago with a business idea based on her vision to support and work with a wide range of children and adults who would benefit from being around horses and ponies. Over the years, Stephen has helped Deni to build an outdoor and indoor riding arena, a set of grass gallops, install an Aga in the school classroom and increase stabling and tie rails for the ever-increasing number of horses and ponies, now totalling 70. “Stephen is so supportive, he just makes things happen,” says Deni. “He’s happy for us to ride all over his farm, which makes for very safe and peaceful rides.”

Deni offers a wide range of lessons, clubs and interventions for children and adults of all abilities and backgrounds. She’s a firm believer in the therapeutic power of horses, describing them as “gentle, calm creatures that respond to human behaviour”. “For example, if someone is feeling very anxious,” she says, “just standing next to a horse and touching it can help lower their heart rate and blood pressure.”

Young people with a wide range of problems and often no longer able to attend mainstream schools, attend the therapeutic education centre, which is accredited to provide out-of-classroom education. Alongside regular lessons, students spend time learning to care for the horses. They become a valued part of the team and can see the difference they make, developing a sense of purpose, resilience, self-pride and personal ambition.


Billy the horse with Seren, who has been spending time at the riding centre as part of a bereavement programme after losing her mum


Now registered as a government-funded Marcus Rashford Holiday Activities and Food programme, groups of children spend the school holidays at the centre. They enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner together (now you can see where the Aga comes in) and as well as learning about and looking after the horses, they also learn about food, digging up seasonal vegetables on the farm, preparing and eating the food they’ve harvested.

The equestrian centre also supports people with a wide range of physical disabilities who spend time with the horses, taking part in carriage rides if they aren’t physically able to ride. The hard working, patient and enthusiastic team members who help to deliver activities for disabled guests are often those who first arrived because they had ‘a range of problems’ that prevented them from attending mainstream schools. Deni attributes this transformation to “the life changing power of horses!”.

Beyond the peaceful rides across the farmland, Deni encourages everyone who visits or works at the centre to explore the wider opportunities available within the equine industry. Some join the twelve-week youth training race programme, including visits to Ascot and Chepstow Races. Others explore British eventing and show jumping disciplines, with many going on to win awards.

Deni’s vision for the future is “more of course!”. She would like to grow the indoor school, incorporate residential accommodation, offer a wider range of activities and increase access for those less able. Thankfully, ever supportive Stephen is on board with her vision and is determined to help make it happen.

Completing the circle, the success of the equestrian centre supports the success of the farm, with the tenant farmer paying rent on the land which creates an income for the SMT endowment fund. Income that goes directly to supporting the invaluable work of the St Monica Trust to care for older people and those who are most vulnerable.

Patrick Despard and David Freed from SMV, with Deni Harper-Adams (centre) from Kingsleighs Equestrian Centre