Hello 2021: what's the best way of supporting your local RDA group this New Year?

2020? Goodbye! Happy New Year? Let's not jinx ourselves...

We've seen off a year of unprecedented challenge for RDA as an organisation, but that's not to say a switch was flipped at midnight on Thursday. I really want to be blogging with shiny New Year optimism, but I'm not even heading back to RDA just yet: my group in tier 4 Oxfordshire is staying closed for the time being. Anecdotally, it seems that very few groups are in a position to offer activities this January, even if they were in the second half of 2020. (Even if a group is active, it is unlikely to be fully open and will still be in need of support.) January was already my least favourite month of the year, but it's looked better.

Your local RDA group would probably say that times have been better too, and it's unlikely that they've ever stopped needing or seeking support to keep going. Even if we're taking 2021 one day at a time, I know people like to start a new year with a bit of proactivity. So, here's my first blog of 2021: how you can support your local RDA group, as we head into what we hope will be a better year...

Money matters

To be very, very frank: one of the best ways you can continue to support your RDA group is to (continue to) donate riding fees or other forms of regular giving, even if you are facing another closed period, or the continuation of an existing closed period. This comes with a hefty caveat that no group will expect this, or that they would want anyone to donate anything they can't afford. All groups also realise that it's a bit of a bind to continue paying for activities you or your child can't necessarily access. The generosity of participants and their families and carers throughout the time they haven't been able to ride has been incredibly important to my group's ability to keep going over the last nine months or so, and that generosity has never been taken for granted. Our horses haven't eaten any less (if they had, they'd go on strike, and then there would we be...?) since our first lockdown last spring, haven't trashed any fewer rugs in the field, haven't stopped needing to see the vet or the farrier, haven't stopped needing the saddler to check the fit of their tack. All of these things need to be paid for in order for your group to have sessions for you to return to: I'm not a participant, but I know how priceless that "back to RDA" feeling is.

Fresh fundraising

Charities like us tend to undertake two types of fundraising: one type for specific projects, like a new building or horse, and another for ongoing running costs. Our RDA groups are expensive to run, so project fundraising is a marathon and running cost fundraising is a constant stream of ultra-marathons. Your group's trustees or other existing fundraisers have been on a particularly hilly and arduous ultra-marathon since March 2020, so a great way of supporting them this New Year would be to take on a fresh fundraising project of your own. 

Do you have a New Year's resolution which could be used to gain sponsorship money? (I really should've done this with last year's Couch to 5k, because trust me, it was a trial...) Do you have the skills to make things which could be sold to raise money? (Most of my face coverings are from RDA fundraisers!) Could you run a scheme on behalf of your group: sponsor a pony/fence post/trotting pole/wheelbarrow? The more genuinely is the merrier when it comes to fundraising initiatives, and having some fresh fundraising faces on the block also has the added benefit of expanding your group's pool of potential donors. It could also be that you'd like to lend a hand to writing grant applications, can get your group involved in a charitable giving scheme at your workplace, or are a dab hand at spotting "nominate a charity" opportunities on Facebook. I'm pretty sure that the majority of my readers are already connected to an RDA group, but this isn't a prerequisite for fundraising for one! Like I said: the more the merrier.

A different kind of help

For established volunteers, it may be that your group would appreciate a bit of volunteer power, but in a different context to your regular slots or sessions. Are there maintenance tasks, rather than equine or session-based ones, which could benefit from your skills? Might you be able to cover for paid staff if anyone becomes ill or has to isolate? It's as important as ever to be honest about what you feel confident doing, to follow local guidelines, and to minimise risk as much as possible. I use public transport to reach my group from a busy university city; I'm not necessarily comfortable with rocking up to help with poo picking at the moment, even though I'd quite like to do my bit. 

Perhaps you are more local to your nearest RDA centre, or are available at quieter times of the week (like early afternoons on school days). Your group may not have any such opportunities available right now, but knowing that you're willing could be a real lifeline in some circumstances. We have no shortage of "doers" in this organisation, and I know there are hundreds of volunteers who hate being sat at home when there's something they could help with on the yard.

New volunteers

If you are a prospective volunteer, perhaps one who has become interested in RDA volunteering over the last few months, your patience be a great and greatly necessary way of supporting your local RDA group. At the end of 2020, my group were still counting existing volunteers carefully and limiting the numbers on site at any one time. In some cases, rotas were in place, and helpers were not necessarily able to attend as regularly as they were used to in the past. It feels completely wrong to turn away keen prospective volunteers (my most popular post from last January was to encourage new volunteers...), but we're having to do so almost as default. Keeping up your enthusiasm for joining our community would be a perfect New Year gift to your local RDA group: even if we don't have a timescale now, we will all need more volunteer power some time in the future, and we'll be able to give you a fuller and busier experience too. 

Coping and connecting

RDA groups, even the small ones, are complex networks of individuals (often with specific needs and challenges) and relationships between those individuals: volunteers, participants, parents/carers, etc. If your group is closed or limiting its activity, an unfortunate side effect of keeping the network safe is limiting its interactions. Even if the horses tend to be the main event, the people with whom a member of an RDA group would typically interact can be outstandingly important to that member's well-being. You can help bolster your RDA group's very core by keeping in contact: with volunteers, participants, yard staff, parents... or everyone! Is there a fellow member of your group local to you who you could join for some socially distanced exercise? Would a fellow volunteer who lives alone appreciate a chat on the phone? Group chairs, trustees, and coaches have been keeping these connections going for the best part of a year, but absolutely anyone can make a difference to their RDA team with something as simple as a text message.

I loved sending my riders "Pony Post" during the first lockdown and think I will get my writing supplies out to rejuvenate this idea during the coming weeks. I've also found solidarity and purpose in connecting (virtually) with members of other RDA groups: we are all part of something bigger than just our individual groups, and that's wonderful to acknowledge too.

Sharing is caring

Perhaps the easiest thing of all in our increasingly digital lives: pass it on. If your RDA group posts about a fundraising initiative or just an update on how they are managing, give it a share. Comment on their Instagram posts of furloughed ponies or first lessons back (it's actually one of the biggest ways of getting the algorithms to show the post to more people). Do the same for groups which aren't yours, too! You never know who or what might pop up as a result of your share, and words of support cost nothing and mean everything to charities like ours which just have to keep pushing on.

Wishing you a healthy and all-round better 2021: it isn't a write-off yet!