This September our donkey assisted therapy centre in Birmingham turns 21! Over the last few blogs we have met the donkeys and the children at our centre. In addition to the children who ride here, we are also pleased to be expanding our reach further still. For over 20 years the donkeys and staff at Birmingham have provided outreach visits to residential homes and hospices. The donkeys have proved no end of times that they can enrich the lives of the elderly, the sick and those in rehabilitation. Having a donkey in the living room may prove a bit strange to some, but the smiles on the faces of young and elderly residents are all the thanks the team need.
In 2011, as part of the outreach programme and with the help of donkey welfare officer Peter Thorne (retired), we began a mobile riding service in Nottingham. The outreach programme was dedicated to Janet Thorne, Peter’s late wife and supporter of the charity for many years. The Birmingham team, along with five donkeys from the centre, provide riding therapy on school fields to a number of schools in the East Midlands. You could say that, from the beginnings of the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust (as it was then known) in school fields, the charity has come full circle!
The children, parents and visitors to Birmingham have also always enjoyed the various events that we have put on throughout the year, especially the annual Summer and Christmas fairs. The fantastical Christmas grotto is an extra special treat to visitors. The Christmas grotto, brain child of the late Phil Brennan, the maintenance manager at Birmingham, is a structure that has grown each year and now spans the width of the building and takes an average 6 weeks to construct! Over the years, visitors have also enjoyed Easter egg hunts, auctions and donkey walks around Sutton Park.
We have dealt with some difficult times at Birmingham, too. One large problem in 2011 was the arrival of a large oak tree… directly onto our building! Thankfully nobody was hurt but, thanks to an old tree and high winds, the centre roof and the vehicles took a bit of a battering that we won’t forget in a hurry. It’s ok though… we were told it was merely a ‘summer leaf drop’!
Losing donkeys is never easy and we have said goodbye to some four legged friends with a tear in our eyes but smiles in our hearts. Also, over the years, we have said goodbye to volunteers and, more recently, staff members - which can be the hardest of all. We are so lucky that we are a close-knit team and have many friends and supporters.
It has been a roller-coaster of a ride for the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust, more recently re-named The Donkey Sanctuary after the two charities merged, especially for manager Sue Brennan. However, we look to the future with excitement and, so far, the team thinks it has been one hell of an amazing ride.