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Finding inspiration in Ickleford and Pirton

PUBLISHED: 13:07 22 August 2013 | UPDATED: 13:07 22 August 2013

Ella Bennion on grey mare Boo, Debbie Nicholl, and Olivia Ludford on  blue and white gelding Bertie Basset at Ickleford Equestrian and Pony Club

Ella Bennion on grey mare Boo, Debbie Nicholl, and Olivia Ludford on blue and white gelding Bertie Basset at Ickleford Equestrian and Pony Club

clive tagg 2013

With stunning landscapes and people making a difference to the lives of youngsters, there is much inspiration to found in the neighbouring North Herts villages of Ickleford and Pirton. By Louise McEvoy

Striving to stamp out elitism in horse riding, the Nicholls family run the Ickleford Equestrian and Pony Club Centre to allow children and adults of all backgrounds to ride.

The Nicholls moved to Ickleford in 1965 and started a livery yard at Lower Green Farm. When Richard and Debbie Nicholls took the helm of the family business in 1990 they opened a riding school, and now provide everything from riding lessons to courses in stable management. ‘We are a pony club for children who don’t have their own ponies,’ explains Debbie. ‘Horse riding is often seen as elitist, but any children can come here and they have the same opportunities as children with ponies have.’

Debbie has always had a love of horses, and her father bought her a pony when she was just 12 years old – a horse she had for more than 30 years. ‘It all went from there,’ Debbie says, ‘and now I have got everything that I wanted. It’s a way of life. It’s hard in the winter, and we have much longer winters than we did, and sometimes it can be demanding, but I love the horses.’

There are currently more than 40 liveries and Debbie and her family own more than 25 horses and ponies. Some they have had for more than 20 years.

Debbie says, ‘The great thing about horse riding is that it’s a leveller. Everyone who comes here has the same passion and everyone is the same on a horse. It gives people confidence and it’s very therapeutic to groom a horse and be around them. We teach adults and children with autism and learning difficulties and slight physical disabilities.’

For more information about the Ickleford Equestrian and Pony Club Centre, which also provides lessons for horse owners, visit icklefordequestriancentre.com

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With more than 12 acres of lavender, amounting to 17 miles of rows of beautiful purple flowers, Hitchin Lavender in Ickleford arrests your senses in the most spectacular way.

The Hunter family has farmed at Cadwell Farm for more than 100 years, spanning five generations and diversified from arable farming to include lavender growing in 2000. With lots of different varieties of lavender, the colours and scent are striking and the fields are a particular attraction to photographers and artists.

Husband and wife Tim and Noel Hunter had been living in Argentina but were attracted back to the family-run farm by the lavender aspect of the business, which they are now heavily involved in. ‘We harvest the lavender and it is laid out and dried,’ Tim explains. ‘When it’s completely dry we send it off to be distilled and they send back the essential oil. Because we are seasonal it’s a lot of work in just a few months of the year, whereas the rest of the year it’s pretty dormant. We concentrate a lot on people picking their own flowers when they are in bloom in July and August, and it’s turning into an attraction rather than a farm.’

On August 2, an event to raise money for the neonatal unit at Lister Hospital in Stevenage is being held at Hitchin Lavender after Tim and Noel’s son, Camilo, was born prematurely and was cared for by staff at the unit. ‘The last three years we have been close to the neonatal unit,’ Tim says. ‘We could just see how incredibly dedicated all the staff members were, and for obvious reasons it stays with us. It’s a charity close to our hearts.’

The event, which starts at 7pm, will include a welcome drink, a tour of the lavender farm, a sit-down supper and live music. For tickets, at £20, visit listerneonatalunitfamiliesgroup.org

For more about Hitchin Lavender, go to hitchinlavender.com

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Supporting people who may not have had the best start in life to train and qualify for a career in law, has become a key part of the life of solicitor and Pirton resident Diane Burleigh, who has received an OBE for her work.

Awarded in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to the legal profession, Diane was presented with the OBE by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in June.

‘I am absolutely delighted and thrilled by the award,’ Diane says. ‘I’m overwhelmed. It was a wonderful, wonderful surprise.’

Diane is the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, which offers a route to a legal career and becoming a qualified lawyer without the usual requirement of a law degree. ‘A lot of people come to us who have not done their best at school or who are late developers,’ she explains. ‘Instead of a professional career being cut off, we encourage it. In 2007 we had our first judge qualify with us. He had left school with three GCSEs, and one of those was in woodwork.

‘We offer a qualification for people who don’t go to university, and we have very open access. It’s about encouraging more people into law. Seventy five per cent of our 20,000 members are women, 14 per cent are from ethnic minorities and 80 per cent have no one who has gone to university in their family.’

Diane, who has been at the institute since 1998, says she is driven by an interest in education, ‘I have always been interested in helping people to make the best of themselves,’ she says.

To find out more about the work of the institute, go to cilex.org.uk

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