AN equine welfare charity will have to vacate its yard in Lisbellaw this weekend, sealing the fate of the services it can provide, not only for the animals it strives to save, but to the people it assists with mental health issues.
After overcoming one its toughest winter, the Equine Welfare Network (EWN) was delivered a crushing blow at the end of May when it was given five weeks notice to vacate its yard in Lisbellaw.
The news left Kerri-Anne Fitzpatrick and her small team of volunteers with the unenviable task of trying to rehome 21 equines before July 1.
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter in the final days before the charity leaves its Lisbellaw base, Ms. Fitzpatrick was pleased to report that most of the animals had been rehomed, with the remaining few in foster homes, but devastated to be faced with the prospect of what now lies ahead for the charity.
And with an uncertain future hanging over EWN, just at the end of last week its vital lifesaving work was demonstrated once again when the volunteers rescued a pony from a river at Kesh.
“We got the call at almost midnight from the distressed owner - her pony had somehow ended up in the river and there seemed no way of getting her out,” Ms. Fitzpatrick explained.
The team attended the scene to offer support and reassurance to both owner and pony. Ms. Fitzpatrick spent three hours in the water with the animal before the rescue mission was completed.
“I’m really surprised the pony made it because of the amount of trauma it went through.
“But that is a good example of the work that we do - day or night.
“But this is the end for EWN as we know it,” she said, sadly, “EWN was not just about the animals.
“We provided confidential support and assisted therapy, volunteering opportunities to young people with mental health issues.
“There is no service like that out there. And there are huge waiting lists to get a referral to see someone.
“We provided a service without walls, no clinical environment.
“But that is not going to be there now.”
According to Ms. Fitzpatrick, even on Christmas Day the yard opened its doors to welcome in anyone feeling isolated or alone.
“We were really surprised by the number of people who showed up,” she sad, “There was a steady flow of people the entire time, all coming to see the animals.”
EWN volunteer, Carly MacBratney was a service user before she joined the team.
Originally from County Down, the Health and Social Care worker was struggling with her sleeping pattern as a result of working night shifts.
“My mental health too a downhill spiral,” she said, “It really affected me. There was nothing getting me out of bed. But when I started coming to EWN, Kerri gave me a reason to get up and get out.
“I have been with her every since. Getting more and more involved with the charity.
“So I am gutted we are losing our premises.
“I was looking at the animals this week thinking: ‘Without us, you wouldn’t be here today. If we hadn’t taken that active approach to save them and help them, they would be dead.”
Ms. Fitzptrick is still holding out hope that a new location can be found to continue the work the charity currently provides.
“We will still provide owner support, but it will be very tough to find a facility that meets the needs of the service we are providing.
“It needs to be somewhere that people can feel safe, somewhere that has character.”
The EWN team are welcoming suggestions from anyone who believes they know of a good location for the charity to continue into the future.
In the meantime, she has extended thanks to all those who have provided moral, practical and financial support to the charity over the years.