SINCE the opening of the £1 million donkey riding therapy centre near Ballyrobert last year, volunteer Frances Wright has been diligently coming up with new ways to boost the coffers of the charity which runs the facility, the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust (EST).
In the 18-months leading up to the opening of EST Belfast - which is designed to help children with special needs - Frances raised a whopping £5,500 through fundraisers such as floral arrangement events, charity concerts and car boot sales.
And the kind-hearted pensioner has been instrumental in organising a fundraising concert in aid of the charity, which will take place at Ballyclare Secondary School next week.
Those attending the event will enjoy an evening of gentle humour and songs entitled ‘The Lighter Side of Life’, with performances by Elizabeth Ross and Friends, along with fledgling Carrick soprano, Susan Graham.
The 21-year-old, a former pupil of Carrick Grammar School who is currently studying music at Queen’s University, has become something of a singing sensation in the province and Frances is delighted that she will be lending her talents to the upcoming fundraiser.
Frances, who helps out as a volunteer at the centre, told the Times that the money raised from the concert will be used to help purchase a trailer, which will allow the charity to transport donkeys to schools and other locations for outreach sessions.
She added: “Currently, EST Belfast is transporting donkeys to schools using equipment that has been loaned to us. Having our own trailer would be a tremendous help to us, but they cost about £16,000 so there is quite a bit more fundraising to do before we can afford it.
“EST Belfast relies on the generous financial contributions of others to meet the substantial running costs of the centre, which is designed to bring enjoyment and pleasure to the lives of children with special needs, and to give them the satisfaction that comes with the achievement of learning riding skills.
“The charity does not charge people for entry into the centre, and so fundraising is vital for its continued success.”
The land that EST Belfast was built on was generously donated to the charity, but the centre itself represents an investment of about £1 million. The state-of the-art facilities include a heated indoor riding arena, sensory garden, play areas and a sensory room. The donkeys too are well looked after in their heated stables.
Frances (pictured left) feels the work being done at the Ballymartin Road centre is “hugely important” for young people with special needs, and she urged more people to give up some of their spare time to help out in whatever way they can.
“There are very few paid staff at the centre and most of the work is carried out by volunteers. It is very rewarding helping out at the centre and watching young people’s eyes light up when they get to interact with the donkeys.
“The project has taken off and I have been amazed by how much interest there has been in it. Long may it continue,” Frances concluded.
The fundraising concert will take place at Ballyclare Secondary School on Friday, April 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets priced at £10 each are available by contacting the centre on Tel: 9332 4647.
For more information about EST Belfast, including details about volunteering, email EST.Belfast@elisabethsvendsentrust.org.uk