Muslim-run horse riding school brings together local community
In Gloucestershire, the St James City Farm and Riding School - a Muslim, community-run horse riding school - brings together its diverse local community.
Imran Atcha set the school up against the odds during the pandemic, and he didn't do it the easy way, as he started with a modest budget. Atcha always had a love of horses, and his venture into the business was by raising £500 to buy a share in a horse, when he also taught himself how to ride.
"I struggled myself for many years to enter the horse world, so now I aim to make it as easy as possible for children from the inner city to learn about horses," Mr Atcha says. "I am a Muslim myself and a high proportion from my area are third generation Muslim immigrant children who I feel have lost their roots. Children are spending hours a day on screen based entertainment; phones and computer games and there is a big disconnection from nature."
"Religiously when you connect with nature and animals, you connect with God. When the children come to horses they completely change. You see that development and teachers and parents can't believe it," Mr Atcha says.
Not only does Atcha want to give horse riding lessons, but he also wants to teach kids about Arabic heritage and traditions.
"Many have come from rural communities into the city and lost that connection. Horsemanship is a big part of our heritage from the earliest of times. We were experts; this is about connecting people and explaining that this is their culture," he says.
"If they knew their history, which is so rich in horsemanship from a cultural and religious perspective, they would take great pride and interest in it.
"There are many religious tracts in the Quran about the benefits of horsemanship, lots of advice from Prophetic traditions - peace be upon him – about goodness being in horses."
Atcha ensures that families don't find spending time with horses to be unaffordable: he only charges £2.50 for a beginner lesson and £5 for every class afterwards. If families have any financial difficulties, Atcha finds a way to support them.
"There are untold benefits in being with horses and untapped talent in the area that is waiting to be discovered, and our little charitable project is one part of reviving this lost heritage, developing our young people and bringing communities from all backgrounds together at the same time."