Today is Volunteer Recognition Day, and today we want to say a big fat THANK YOU to our volunteers who work at the Farm!
One of them is Sue Holden, our Donkey-lady extraordinaire! You may meet her during your big day and sometimes during our other events, walking with our donkeys and other animals.
I sat down with Sue, and we talked about what it is like to volunteer at The Wellbeing Farm, how we’ve seen it progress, and of course, our ADORABLE DONKEYS!!
Charlotte: Hi Sue, thank you for agreeing to this. Just remind me how long you’ve volunteered here – because it’s been a long time hasn’t it?
Sue: Yes, it has; I started in the Spring of 2015, so it has been 4 years!
Charlotte: Oh wow! That long, almost as long as me! [I started working at the Farm late October 2014]
Sue: I was originally only going to stay for 6 months.
Charlotte: Seriously! Well, we must have done something right! So, like me, you’ve seen the Farm completely change and evolve?
Sue: I have indeed. It’s been good to see it go from just a couple of weddings here and there, to some weeks having four weddings in a row and finding “That’s Your Weekend Gone!”
Charlotte: I know, it’s been crazy! It feels like a lifetime ago! What brought you here in the first place?
Sue: I knew a Bride who got married here some years ago, and she heard that there was a volunteering job to help walk the llamas. At the time, I had just retired and was looking for something different; so, I thought, ok, why not. I went up, and the Farm said that it was the donkeys they were looking for help with, not the llamas… I still went for it and was completely chucked in in the deep end.
Charlotte: Were you?! I thought you’d already had some prior experience with animals?
Charlotte: Again, similar to me then. Before starting here, I had never carried plates or pulled a pint in my life! I would have never dreamed I would be Bar Manager for more than a year just a couple of years later!
Sue: Well there you go then. I’ve also been on a course from the Donkey Sanctuary as well – shows the farm is open for plenty of opportunities. Working with the donkeys wasn’t easy in the beginning though.
Sue: No. The donkeys were extremely skittish at first! Celia [our Managing Director] wanted me to get them used to people and they were very shy to begin with…
Charlotte: And NOW look at them! What’s your favourite thing about helping out at our weddings and events?
Sue: I think it would be meeting different people all the time, and the reactions on people’s faces when we bring the animals out. I actually have the perfect example, during the [Quirky] Wedding Fair the other week. I had just brought the donkeys out, when a car drove up the drive. The driver had the window down and was so excited, she let out a shout of “OMG, DONKEYS!!”, so I took them over to her. It turned out that she was a Bride who had booked at the Farm – and the animals were what swayed her, she was so excited!
Charlotte: Oh wow! I showed an old friend of mine around the other day (she had recently got engaged), and she had a very similar reaction. That’s just what makes us stand out though doesn’t it?
Sue: Oh yeah.
Charlotte: What other venue has llamas, alpacas and donkeys come and say hello?! I bet they provide some entertaining moments too…
Sue: They can do. We’ve had a few cases where they’ve been eyeing up the Bride’s flowers…! But I always find the blokes at a wedding the most entertaining. When they’re trying to take selfies, the donkeys cannot keep still – that’s always funny.
Charlotte: You and Pete, our amazing groudsman, are quite the team! Do you have a favourite Pete moment?
Sue: Hmmm…. The banter between us is ridiculous! I’m going to struggle to keep it PG! We get on very well. And he looks after me – if my hands are cold, he’ll bring me a towel to warm them up.
Charlotte: Awww, that’s so sweet. Like I said, I’ve been at The Wellbeing Farm a long time and I STILL cannot tell the two donkeys apart! How do you do it?
Sue: It’s easy, in Winter. Crackerjack has a very fuzzy fringe in Winter. Gypsy has a wider face, but not by much. Even Pete couldn’t tell them apart until recently!
Charlotte: Haha, ok, I’m glad I’m not the only one. After walking the donkeys on a wedding, you and Pete bring out the Alpacas. How has that been going?
Sue: Interesting. They’re still quite shy, as we’ve not had them long [only around 18 months]. It can also be interesting when Augustus refuses to leave the pen. I’m normally walking Winston during the weddings and we finally seem to be getting along.
Charlotte: Ah, that’s good. Of course, today is Volunteer Recognition Day, and so I’d like to talk about volunteering in general. You’ve also been volunteering at the Red Cross. How long have you been doing that?
Sue: About 15/16 years. It’s incredibly rewarding work.
Charlotte: Why do you enjoy volunteering so much?
Sue: It truly is a Team. When everyone goes on about “Team Wellbeing”, it’s because that IS what we are. I think we’re incredibly lucky in that everyone gets along, and we always have a lot of fun while we’re working.
Charlotte: Final question – what would you say to anyone who is thinking about volunteering but unsure whether or not to go for it?
Sue: Do it. You may not get paid, but I have got so much more coming up here and working with the donkeys, than I did in work. If I’ve had a bad day, I come up to see the donkeys and take them on a walk; and I feel better instantly.
Once again, big thank you to Sue for allowing me to interview her. Hopefully, that will encourage you to come to us, or any other organisation and get involved in volunteering – you never know where it may take you!