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Driving Innovations

Posted in This months highlight on 04 Dec 2023

To mark Disability History Month, this highlight explores the story behind the Windsor and Ascot Driving Group. Founded by Nancy Pethick in 1974, it was the first group to cater for drivers of ponies and donkeys using wheelchairs and the group leaders pioneered the production of specially adapted carriages. The Royal Berkshire Archives library collection includes a pamphlet by G. L. Pethick entitled 'The Story of Pony and Donkey Driving For The Disabled' (1981), which paints a picture of the dedication and innovations of those at the forefront of this movement.

Pamphlet front cover two people sit in a carriage drawn by a donkey. Title reads The Story of Pony and Donkey Driving for the Disabled, Pamphlet by G. L. Pethick entitled 'The Story of Pony and Donkey Driving For The Disabled' (1981)

The pamphlet notes that the idea was first attributed to the late HRH Prince Philip. In 1973 he suggested that the existing voluntary movement of riding for children with disabilities might be extended to adults. With this idea in mind, Mrs Nancy Pethick of Sunningdale of the British Driving Society pioneered a trial scheme in 1974. The first group was based at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, where they were able to make use of the grounds. This was also conveniently close to Yateley Industries, a charity in Hampshire founded in 1937, which provides skills training, employment and accommodation for adults with disabilities.

With the success of this group, in 1975 a second group was formed using Ascot racecourse for its drives and within five years there were 16 groups which had formed across the country. This demonstrated that there was a clear need for the manufacture of a specialist carriage which could safely carry a wheelchair and its user without needing to alter an existing vehicle to suit this purpose.

The first model of a specially designed carriage was professionally built to Nancy Pethick and Barnely Thornely’s design. This then underwent several modifications over the years. In 1977 there was a sponsored drive from Land’s End to Balmoral organised by the British Driving School in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The funds raised went into the final design of the vehicle which would continue to be named the ‘Jubilee’ vehicle thereafter. A dye-line drawing was then made available for any group starting up which could be passed to an engineering firm in their own area capable of building a vehicle to the agreed standard. The specifications for this vehicle were requested by centres from across the world, including New Zealand, Australia and the USA, exemplifying the international influence of the movement.

The pamphlet foretells that, ‘of its future all that can be said is that if the therapy, happiness and social values which became so evidence during the first years of development provide a guide, then the future of the movement is fully assured’. Windsor and Ascot Driving Group is still in operation today and continues to provide recreational and social benefits to many people in the local area. The continued success of the group is a testament to these founding values. You can find out more about them online.

Pamphlet open to show two pages of typed English text from pamphlet by G. L. Pethick entitled 'The Story of Pony and Donkey Driving For The Disabled' (1981)