The varied and interesting life of a welfare officer found me at Surrey Docks City Farm where, in my role as a Trainer for The Donkey Sanctuary, we were holding a Stage 1 Donkey Care Course for six of their volunteers. Thank goodness for SatNav as negotiating London streets with my legendary sense of direction would probably have resulted in my ending up on Hampstead Heath desperately searching for large ears in the undergrowth!
This particular city farm is right on the side of the River Thames in Rotherhithe Street, an area that has seen considerable regeneration, but also is home to many low income families. It provides a unique opportunity for city dwellers to learn about farm animals and where our food comes from. It's also a great day out with a chance to observe and even cuddle some of the resident stock, although possibly not a rather angry turkey that seemed to have escaped from her pen and was busy lunging at passers by! An outreach programme using the Farm's horsebox provides a mobile petting zoo for outlying areas and the pony, goats and small animals all have a chance to be star turns.
The Farm is funded by the local Council, grants and donations from the public and receives a lot of local support with visitor numbers in the region of 1,000 a day.
It is amazing how much can be achieved in 2.2 acres and a considerable variety of animals know this as their home. The farm also hosts a café where various snacks and drinks can be purchased - I had one of the best cups of coffee ever - and homemade cakes tempt the faint hearted. Home grown vegetables and herbs are also offered for sale with the considerable manure output supplying plenty of fertilizer.
The farm has approximately 100 volunteers as well as regular staff and it was six of the voluntary youngsters who were taking the course. Our morning session included watching the donkey care DVD followed by a general chat on the content, a quick test using laminated photos on poisonous plants and some basic first aid.
We then had a break for lunch and because it was the most glorious day, I sat by the towpath in front of the farm watching the river traffic and admiring some of the luxury flats which abut the river banks whilst eating my sandwich.
The afternoon session involved hands on with the resident donkeys, Hermione and Alice, two lovely donkeys who reside with a small Shetland pony. A quick resume of how to catch, tie up with a quick release knot, groom and lead your donkey was conducted with enthusiasm by the six volunteers, all of whom work regularly in caring for the donkeys. They had already done the mucking out for the day so we just discussed various types of bedding and suitable feed for donkeys. Hermione and April are both on the slightly plump side and to their regret not in need of any extra feed!
Back to the classroom for the final session involving a written test on what they had learnt about donkeys during the day. All six did very well and I would like to thank Gemma, the overall manager, for her hospitality, obvious enthusiasm for her job and for giving me some of her valuable time. Thanks also to Steve, Sophie, Lisa, Charlotte, Emily and Jamie for their interest and for making the day so enjoyable. Incredibly rewarding, to be given the opportunity to further spread a little knowledge and love of donkeys.
Good luck, guys, with showing the donkeys at this year's City Harvest Festival, to be held at Capel Manor College, Enfield, which allows London's city farms and community gardens to showcase their educational and neighbourhood achievements. This event is on 21st September 2013 and well worth a visit if you are in the area.