A CENTRE which enables disabled people to get up close and personal with animals in the shadow of Heathrow is celebrating a windfall.

Heathrow Special Needs Centre was founded in 1986 and pays a peppercorn rent for a prime site at Bath Road, Longford, next to the airport, which built the farmhouse, barn and stables.

People with physical, mental and learning disabilities do jobs, including cleaning out stables, collecting eggs and feeding the residents. These include a horse, two donkeys, a pair of pigs and a gaggle of goats, chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The centre is able to employ an animal and visitor liaison staff member, thanks to a £25,000 grant from City Bridge Foundation.

It’s a welcome boost according to Ken Tinslay, a 75-year-old retired policeman who has been the charity’s secretary since 2000.

He said: “When people come here it’s an important milestone in their week. They get to do things they couldn’t do anywhere else and their self-confidence improves as a result.

“Coming here, working with the animals and completing jobs gives them a sense of achievement, and that’s important. The main thing they get out of it is happiness. There’s no doubt about it – this is a happy place.”

The centre opens five days a week, accommodating around 20 people a day by appointment and via drop-in sessions on Walkabout Wednesdays from 10am to 1.30pm

It also has a polytunnel in which staff and visitors grow vegetables for consumption by its human visitors and non-human residents.

Giles Shilson, City Bridge Foundation chairman, said: “Millions of people pass through Heathrow every year, but few of them notice the hidden gem tucked away just by its northern runway.

“Thanks to the tireless work of people like Ken, Heathrow Special Needs Centre has been built up over the last four decades into a thriving community that is really treasured by the people who visit it.”