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The new chairman of trustees of Sheffield-based charity and Connect Yorkshire member Support Dogs, has made finding a new national training centre a top priority.

David Hobson, who took up his post as chairman of the board of trustees on January 1, said Support Dogs was hoping to expand its life-changing work for families affected by autism, epilepsy and disability, by seeking larger, more appropriate rural premises in the Sheffield/South Yorkshire area.

Mr Hobson, who is the project director of the Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield and has more than 40 years’ experience in the building and construction industry, said a bigger, more fit-for-purpose national training centre would allow the charity to grow and be more efficient.

For the past 20 years Support Dogs has been based in a light industrial estate in Brightside but growing demand for its services – which the charity provides free of charge – is now prompting a move to a more suitable location in the countryside.

The charity trains assistance dogs for children with autism and adults with epilepsy and physical disability, enabling them to lead safer, more independent lives.

Mr Hobson, aged 65, also pledged to make sure the charity was able to carry on its life-changing work during the pandemic.

“We need to make sure that we continue to operate during these difficult times and that we have a strong charity when it is back to ‘normal’,” said Mr Hobson, who joined the charity two and a half years ago. “We will need to change and adapt to ensure we continue to grow.

“Our work is unique and provides vital care for those with challenging conditions including epilepsy, autism and MS. We need a site that we can develop to ensure we have a centre that gives us the facilities to give the best support for them as they are trained and partnered with one of our amazing support dogs.”

Mr Hobson, who has supported a range of trusts and charities in the health and wellbeing sector over the past decade, also has two rescue Labradors, Ted and Harry. “My wife Julie and I take inspiration from the training that Support Dogs provides, but alas with our dogs it’s very much work in progress,” he said.

“I continue to be amazed at how dogs trained by this charity can have on people with epilepsy and disability and youngsters with autism, and how they can change their lives.”

Chief executive of Support Dogs Rita Howson said: “It’s a difficult time to take on this new role of chairman of trustees, but we very much appreciate David’s skills and experience as we embark on the next stage of our development and provide more life-transforming human/canine partnerships.”