A Richmond-upon-Thames Riding for the Disabled Association centre was crowned the UK’s Best Health Charity at the Sun’s Who Cares Wins awards last week.
Park Lane Stables, temporarily based in Petersham, was nominated for this award by the mother of one of the volunteers who wanted to give the founder the recognition she deserved after a particularly difficult year trying to keep the stables going during the pandemic.
The stables’ founder Natalie O’Rourke, 46, attended the awards evening with her daughter Alice, 10, volunteer Philippa George, 25, and Nina Bradburn, 51, who nominated the stables for the accolade.
Natalie said: “When we won we were really really shocked and really delighted obviously.
“For me, it’s recognition for the volunteers because without the volunteers we couldn’t do it.
“We’re hoping to dispel the myth that horses are not for everybody and for me that’s the biggest thing that came out of it.”
Whilst Natalie was keen to attribute the award to all the volunteers and the whole RDA family, Nina wanted Natalie to finally get some of the credit she never takes for herself.
Nina said: “The stables are Natalie. She has made it into what it is.
“She’s just one of the most selfless people I know and nothing is impossible for Nat. She’s a really incredible person to be around.
“A lot of the children and young people who go there have got quite difficult conditions where they find socialising hard but somehow Nat manages to bring this confidence and this self-esteem out of them.”
The event was attended by dozens of high-profile celebrities including David Beckham and Prince William who were on the table next to the four representatives of Park Lane Stables.
Natalie spoke of how Prince William and David Beckham came up to their table after they’d been up on stage to congratulate them in person.
She said: “They really made a fuss of Phillipa which was so nice of them. They were just so genuine and normal.”
“Phillipa’s really good at motivating people and a really good role model for people with disabilities. She’s such an ambassador for us.
“There were so many people who deserved to come and we thought long and hard about it but we thought Philippa could get the most from it.”
Philippa, who has additional needs, is a very regular volunteer at the stables.
She said: “The experience was absolutely amazing. I loved it so much and it was a night I will never ever forget in my whole entire life!”
Despite her delight at being recognised with this honour, Natalie stressed that they measure success in a different way at the stables.
She said: “If a child manages to speak a word as a result of coming here then that’s a gold medal for us.
“When I look back on the last year I can’t believe the journey we’ve been on and how well we’ve done as a team.”
There are around 350 disabled people who are part of the Park Lane Stables family, and nearly 200 volunteers.
Natalie was forced to start a fundraising campaign last December to raise the landlords’ £1 million asking price when they were served notice in December.
Unfortunately, despite raising about £1.4 million, they were unable to stay at their home of 12 years in Teddington and on 31st May they moved to their temporary new site at Manor Farm Stables in Petersham.
“Our heart is in Teddington,” Natalie said, although she expressed gratitude for the landlord of their new site who has made them feel really welcome.
The Sun’s Who Cares Wins awards were established in 2017 to celebrate healthcare heroes, key workers and ordinary people who make a difference.
You can watch the awards ceremony here.