Coronavirus pandemic threatening closure of equine therapy centre and other young people's mental health services

An equine therapy centre in north London warns a mental health crisis is unfolding behind closed doors, as they worry they may not be able to re-open after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

Strength and Learning Through Horses runs educational and therapy programmes for around 300 vulnerable young people a year and for many, it's the only service they engage with.

But as the UK remains under lockdown, video calls are the only way therapists can stay connected with their young clients and staff have said the adapted sessions are not as effective.

Rosie Bensley, programme leader at the centre, told ITV News they've recently had an influx of emails and calls from the young people they currently work with, that "behind close doors young people are struggling."

"They can’t sit in a classroom, they won’t sit in a room with a psychologist, they need to be outside, they need to be engaging with the animals and that’s what starts their journey back to reconnecting with other people so without that those young people will be lost to the system," she said.

Video calls allow the equine therapy centre to stay connected with their young clients.

Due to lack of funding during the pandemic, Bensley and her team may have to keep the centre closed for the foreseeable future.

"We are facing the challenge of covering the cost of staying here so paying for rent and paying for the upkeep of the horses," she added.

"We are a London-based charity and we predominantly cater for young people from urban environments and from the inner city, that means that we have to be located in an easily accessible place for those young people so we are near a tube station and that makes our rent much higher."

Research by the National Youth Agency estimated the coronavirus crisis has left an extra two million young people in need of help, at a time where the agency predicts that one in five youth services may face closure.

Rosie Bensley said the equine therapy centre may have to be closed for the foreseeable future.

Chief Executive of NYA, Leigh Middleton, told ITV News: "Normally around a million young people access youth services, our research is showing us that, that is moving up to near three million as a result of the pandemic - this means that there is a ticking time bomb for young people, we could lose 20% of our provision for young people at the time when there are three times the number of young people needing help."

But Bensley believes equine therapy via video calls is better than no support at all, like many youth services, she hopes her team will soon be able to re-open their doors for a time when they believe young people will need them the most.