Minidonks: The Norfolk miniature donkeys bringing joy across East Anglia
- Credit: Archant
Sarah McPherson sees first-hand the benefits that people get from spending time with her miniature donkeys – and these beautiful animals are bringing joy to people across East Anglia. Rachel Banham reports.
The photos of the miniature donkeys at work sum up their gentle nature and the effects on those they visit.
For nearly five years Sarah McPherson and her team have been taking the donkeys to community groups, voluntary organisations, dementia groups and special needs groups across the region.
They travel from their south Norfolk base across Norfolk and Suffolk and into north Essex and east Cambridgeshire, wherever a mood-boosting donkey visit would help people with their wellbeing.
“We have some marvellous moments where a particular donkey will just feel empathy for an individual,” Sarah says.
“Little Bo Peep, one of our donkeys, she is really good at homing in on somebody. She is a very quiet and gentle little donkey.
“They’ve all got their own personalities.”
Whether meetings take place outdoors, or indoors for those who are unable to go out, Sarah sees how interacting with the donkeys benefits people.
“We take our COVID-security very seriously,” Sarah says.
“When they catch sight of the little donkey … if I could bottle it, it’s pure joy. They are just so pleased to see a little donkey coming into their bedroom to say hello.”
The donkeys can also go to weddings, private parties, funerals or other events if requested.
Sarah is passionate about keeping her donkeys healthy and happy and using them to bring happiness to people who are in need of a boost.
She recalls how the donkeys were “a huge comfort” to her when her parents needed support and how her mum, in particular, benefitted from contact with them.
Sarah’s parents moved into residential care and her initial donkey visit was to the nursing home where they were living.
“When they were physically no longer able to leave the care home, I asked if I could bring the donkeys to see them at the care home, so that was our first ever donkey visit,” she says.
“While we were there, staff said: ‘There’s a lady who is bedbound, but she would love to see the donkeys.’
“So I said: ‘We’ll take a couple of the donkeys indoors’ and that’s what we did. So that planted the seed with me that it was not just my mum who was benefitting, it was other people.”
Sarah lost her mum to dementia in April 2017 and decided to set up a social enterprise, Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing Ltd, to bring the benefits of interacting with mini donkeys to as wide an audience as possible. She lost her dad to dementia in 2020.
Sarah now has six donkeys in all. She and her team have taken the donkeys on visits as far as Hunstanton, Wisbech, Felixstowe and Colchester.
“We’ve had huge amounts of support and good fortune, and the right people coming along at the right time,” she says.
“However people learn about us it’s great to spread the word, because there are still care homes all over Norfolk and Suffolk who haven’t heard of us.
“I love it when we get a really excited call: ‘I’ve just found out about you. How does it work? Can you come and visit?’
“We do charge for our visits, but we always try and charge at a rate that is affordable. The important thing is the people who are being visited.”
Minidonks still needs to raise £10,000 to £15,000 a year and the website has an online shop selling various Minidonks gifts.
Sarah says: “For £35 a year you can sponsor one of our donkeys and you get activity reports on what your donkey has been up to, where they have been visiting, photo specials. You’ll get a Christmas card from your donkey, you’ll get a certificate of sponsorship.”
Sarah has about 20 volunteers, including a core of about 10 who come out regularly on visits with the donkeys.
She says that she couldn’t do the visits without them and is grateful to the “amazing people who have come on board” to help.
She adds: “I think the future is very bright. We know how much people value what we do.
“We’re looking forward to a very busy 2022.” ■
To find out more about how you can support Minidonks, or book a visit from the donkeys, visit the website: www.minidonks.org.uk