Building at the gallop for Anneka and Sister Mary Joy: The challenge was a riding school for disabled children in three days. They finished it with half an hour to spare

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The Independent Culture
For several years Sister Mary Joy has been teaching physically and mentally disabled children to ride. Her school, however, could hardly be further from the frolicsome world of Thelwell, Betjeman and Home Counties' gels venting their aggression on bridled beauties, writes Jonathan Glancey.

Until a few weeks ago, the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre was a tiny stables staffed by local volunteers (and handsome horses), occupying a patch of greenery where Londoners without means exercise their dogs. The 'Scrubs' is topped by the Great Western main line, tailed by the A40 and is, of course, best known as the site of Britain's largest prison.

Last year, Sister Mary Joy began to save to build a new indoor riding school. She asked Sarah Granville, a local architect, to design it. By the time Granville handed over her plans, the Pony Centre had raised pounds 250. As the new school would cost at least pounds 350,000, it seemed that Sister Mary Joy's dream would stay just that. The miraculous occurred in the shape of Anneka Rice, the toothsome TV personality who fronts Challenge Anneka. Sister Mary Joy approached the programme. Could Anneka challenge the nation's builders to raise Sarah Granville's building free of charge in just three days?

Taylor Woodrow Construction Southern Ltd rose to the challenge and finished with half an hour to spare. Bram Payton was Taylor Woodrow's project manager for the riding school challenge. He had just finished racing up a Tesco superstore in nine months flat.

'Sarah Granville had produced an excellent design. We thought it needed two-and-a-half months' work to complete, but that we could cut this down to a fortnight if really pushed. Seventy-two hours was a real challenge. The building had to be fully serviced with sewers, drains, water and electricity.

'Building at this speed was tricky because we needed everyone on site at the same time: 120 workers representing 50 sub-contractors. Safety was obviously important, but apart from blisters and bruises, the only person who got hurt was a St John Ambulance Brigade chap who cut his hand.

'The only way to build at this speed is with military-style planning. Even then, you have to think on your feet. Sarah was there most of the time to make decisions about details that had to be resolved instantly. We had no intention of producing a reckless bodge- job; this had to be a properly finished building that would last for at least 25 years without major expenditure.

'I tried to stay awake for the full 72 hours, but at one point had to go home for a couple of hours' sleep. I just couldn't think.

'We had to use four cranes where, normally, one will do to erect the steel frame. At one point we had 25 steel erectors tripping over one another. This was an uneconomic way to work and I suppose that we must have spent something like pounds 400,000 on the building in those 72 hours, some 12.5 per cent over budget. There are a few rough edges and we've been putting those right. I hope that's not cheating.

'I think it's remarkable that the various sub-contractors have done so much for free and without wanting publicity. So often, companies want to make sure you know they have given to a charitable cause. I don't think we could have done it without a superb respsonse from the contractors, a good design, a spirited client and some very peaceful horses.'

And Anneka cracking the whip.

(Photograph omitted)