RACEHORSE trainer Mr Chris Thornton is now certain he can stay at Middleham with his horses and eight staff, thanks to a grant obtained by the newly-formed mid-Wensleydale community partnership.

Since Spigot Lodge was taken over in February by another trainer who had come from the South with 80 horses, Mr Thornton has been sharing Ashgill stables with Mr John Weymes.

In the meantime, Mr Keith Knight, of the community partnership, was working hard to make a new stables at Middleham the first beneficiary of the funding group.

The European grant has come through the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency for farm diversification. It means that a barn owned by G F W Walton and Sons can be developed as a training stables.

The barn at Sharp Hill is quite a distance from the main farm but only 650m from Middleham Low Moor gallops. An all-weather track will be constructed to reach them.

Planning permission has already been granted for up to 27 indoor stables, offices and training facilities inside the barn, as well as a horse walker outside.

Mr Thornton commented: "This will be a very good yard - one of the best in Middleham, with all the facilities under one roof."

Even before the foot-and-mouth epidemic seriously affected the economy of the dales, the community partnership had pointed out that the area needed regeneration and the key to that had to be agriculture. In Middleham, the two main economic factors were racehorse training and farming.

Mr Knight said they were thrilled for all those who would benefit from this grant. He said the FRCA programme had only just begun and the community partnership was now in a position to advise others on how to access funds.

"Other farmers can take heart from the fact that there is something on the horizon to help them if they can come up with projects. And we now know what is required."