Support is growing to save Ridgway Stables in Wimbledon after its landlord refused to sign a new lease, threatening it with closure.
An online petition has gained more than 5,500 signatures in favour of saving the school, with the campaign backed by figures including Glamour Magazine’s social media editor Kat Brown and Merton Council leader Stephen Alambritis.
Julia Hardy, 67, has managed the riding school, a favourite with celebrities, for 37 years but said she could not afford the price of a court case to fight the decision of the landlord, Lesley Brothers (London).
She said: “I learnt to ride here as a child and I’ve been working here for a long time.
“The stables are old, dating back to around 1840 where it was a livery yard, and it’s been a riding school since 1938.”
The school, which has seen thousands of children learn to ride, prides itself in offering affordable riding lessons for all without a subscription or membership, with students ranging from four to 70, at all levels of experience.
Breaking into tears, Ms Hardy continued: “It has been my life, and it’s great.
“I want to see it preserved as a riding school, but I don’t know what the landlord is planning to do with it.
“We’ve helped the community as part of the Merton Active scheme for 30 years, and we donate all of our manure to the local allotments for use as fertiliser.”
Dee Jacklin-Meyer, 34, who started the petition, was stunned at the support from the community.
She said: “I thought we would only get a few hundred signatures, but we’ve had so much support and lots of heart-warming messages which shows the importance of the stables.”
Mr Alambritis added: “I am fully behind the campaign.
“The stables provide a wonderful opportunity in an urban setting, and it’s in an ideal location.
“We as a council are saying the plans of the landlord have to sink in with the plans for the area, which in the lease is for community use. The planners will otherwise resist.”
Editor Kat Brown, 34, who often commuted to Ridgway to re-learn to ride as an adult and wrote online about her experience, agrees with Mr Alambritis.
“The stables work closely with Merton Council, and I understand that property is at a premium in London, especially in Wimbledon, but the stables have been there for years and it feels like the developers are taking something away from the community,” she said.
“Ridgway has taught countless A-list celebrities, but it also makes riding really accessible to people from all backgrounds.
“It’s a loss beyond measure.”
Helen Mason, 40, who was taught by Ms Hardy as a child and worked at the stables during her time at university, has signed the petition.
“I spent most of my childhood at Ridgway,” she said.
“I was there every weekend, and some of my happiest childhood memories are there.
“Without the stables, I wouldn’t have half the experience I do now in my career working with horses.
“Julia is amazing and has given so much to the community. The school is her livelihood and this is absolutely tragic.”
The online petition, which aims to reach 7,500 supporters before a final decision is made on September 28, can be found here.
Lesley Brothers (London) was contacted for comment but did not offer a reply.