In 1989 Dr Elisabeth Svendsen registered the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust (EST), a charity that would be a sister charity to The Donkey Sanctuary. The purpose of EST was to provide riding therapy for children with additional needs. The first mobile riding unit, outside of the Slade House Farm in Devon, was started on the 6 March 1989 in Birmingham.
Sue Brennan, manager, her husband Phil and her hand full of staff would transport a few donkeys from Sue’s field at home to local schools, providing therapy rides in school fields and car parks. So successful did these rides prove to be that, in 1994, an EST Centre was purpose-built in the forested countryside of Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham. From these humble beginnings the Birmingham EST began and this year, in 2015, we reach the special age of 21 and look back over 21 wonderful and eventful years.
The Centre in Sutton Park has always been known as the ‘Pilkington Donkey Centre’, as Pilkington Glass Company donated a large sum of money which helped fund the building. The Centre was built with a central riding arena where children could have their rides, as well as a large room where children who were waiting their turn could play. Since then the Centre has built a large outside play area with wheelchair accessible equipment, a sensory room and is currently creating a sensory garden and sensory walk for children and visitors.
The Centre, originally housing 8, is now the home to 20 lovely donkeys. Birmingham has also seen the addition of a large sanded ménage, an area where the donkeys can roll, lie in the sun, and shelter off the fields in bad weather.
The Centre has come a long way from the humble days of riding in school fields and Sue and her team are so proud of the success that Birmingham’s Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre enjoys today.
In the next blog, meet the donkeys who live and work at the Sanctuary in Birmingham.