Pippa Lain-Smith recently became a board member for Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing, the South Norfolk-based social enterprise. Here, the MD for Plain Speaking PR, one of Folk Features’ key partners, explains why she wanted to get involved
In February of 2020, before we knew that the UK was about to go into lockdown, I got in touch with a lady called Sarah McPherson. Sarah is the managing director of a social enterprise called Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing. I’d heard about Minidonks from my husband who works in the care sector. He had shown me lots of photos and video of the donkeys visiting elderly people and people with dementia, and said that the impact they had was incredible, generating smiles from often unsmiling people and reaching those who had become largely ‘locked in’ due to their medical conditions.
These amazing little therapy donkeys also visit hospitals, special schools and attend public events, spreading joy one cuddle or stroke at a time.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some brilliant charities and social enterprises during my career, and every single one of them does essential, life-changing work to support people who desperately need it. My company, Plain Speaking PR, is committed to #prforgood so we always have at least two charities on our books and do our utmost to help them thrive.
But there was something about Minidonks that touched me personally. So, I emailed Sarah and said I’d like to help if I could, whether that was by mucking out stables, making a donation or providing some pro bono PR support. She emailed me back and we arranged to chat. She told me the story of how Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing came about. She lost both her mum and dad to dementia but, even in her final months, her mum had always loved being with Sarah’s two miniature donkeys. Sarah got drunk at her mum’s wake and announced to everyone that she was going to quit her job and set up Minidonks. And she did it. We had a long talk, a little cry and agreed that I would visit her soon.
Then, the world went to hell in a handbag! It wasn’t until summer 2020 that I was able to visit Minidonk HQ for our first planning meeting. She introduced me to the five donkeys, including the hugely pregnant Saffron, and I met Hollie, Sarah’s then apprentice.
Almost three years on, I feel like part of the Minidonks team. I’ve been lucky enough to support them with fundraising activity, awareness raising and the occasional grooming and bedtime routine. I met the youngest minidonk, little Jack Rabbit, when he was only two weeks old and seeing my little boy bond with a baby donkey was one of my happiest moments ever.
What I love most about Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing is the simplicity of their offering. The touch, smell, and affection of one of these gentle little beasts can make people smile or bring a sense of peace, even if they are living with very complex health issues, hugely stressed, unhappy, or at the end of their life.
But whilst the premise is simple, like any business or charity it takes a huge amount of skill, administration, hard work, money, and goodwill to keep Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing going.
Sarah, plus her two part-time paid staff, work incredibly hard, supported by an amazing team of volunteers who attend visits to ensure that both humans and donkeys are safe. Training, qualifications, insurance, transport costs, equipment and vet bills all cost a great deal and demand a lot of time. So Minidonks charges organisations a visit cost and mileage expenses.
However, they adopt a ‘pay what you can’ approach for charities and groups who are themselves struggling. Sarah will always try to get her donkeys to people who need them.
So, in January, when Sarah McPherson asked me if I would join the Minidonks Board, I didn’t have to think. It’s a complete and utter privilege.
In the words of Paul Weller in the opening lines of the ‘80s Style Council classic, Walls Come Tumbling Down: “You don’t have to take this crap; you don’t have to sit back and relax. You can actually try changing it.”
That’s just what Sarah McPherson did and it’s why I’m so incredibly proud to be part of this social enterprise.
Featured images supplied by Pippa Lain-Smith