Ankle Deep in the Flicka Foundation

By Joshua Copus – Oxland |

Joshua Copus-Oxland

I decided to volunteer for the Flicka Foundation Donkey Sanctuary on a whim. I’ve always been curious to see what it’s like to work with animals but have never had the chance. Thankfully, the foundation is easily accessible to volunteer for through the FXU Flicka Volunteering Project. This allows anyone with even little-to-no experience to sign up for a session at their own leisure.

I knew going into this that the experience wouldn’t be completely pleasant. A lot of it would most likely involve cleaning the stables or other hard labour, but I was committed to get into the wellies of those who work for the organisation. I wanted to gain a better understanding of how much work goes into taking care of these animals and enthusiasm of the people behind this.

This enthusiasm clearly shows in Joanna Griffith, a third-year Animal Behaviour student, who has had equine experience since she was 6. Joanna started for Flicka as a regular volunteer, before running for committee elections and having various roles from Social Media Manager to Project Leader. She says the volunteering experience has helped her through university work.

“Physically, I’ve definitely noticed that lifting bales and filling the dumper has become easier over time, and it’s often much easier for me to push full wheelbarrows up muddy fields for volunteers rather than letting them do it themselves, as I can usually do it faster. Mentally, I absolutely need my time at Flicka to focus on something other than my university work, and I definitely suffer mentally over the holidays when I don’t have that outlet.”

After having a 20-minute induction on the volunteer role by Joanna, I’m informed of the intentions of the conservation group as well as the work I’ll be shortly completing. Firstly, I’m taken for a tour around the area, of which, there’s the main barn. I feel the different types of feed and learn the difference between hay and haylage. I’m taken round the stables, the tea rooms and the gift shops, which are mostly run by volunteers. I’m then greeted by Annie, a regular volunteer, and their dog Lowen, who is all too eager to have someone to play fetch with.

Our first responsibility is sweeping the area behind the barn outside, where we clear it of debris to make way for the donkeys to come through. The sight of so many different colours and hairstyles coming in is staggering to behold. One horse named Alfie even has his hooves trimmed in the midst of this chaos, and seeing it up close gives perspective on how much care is put into the work, and how much training is required on their part to stay still.

Letting the donkeys in for feeding preparation | Joshua Copus-Oxland/FA

Next we go into the actual barn, where we unload the hay bales to use as feed for the donkeys waiting outside. A lot of the hay is donated from other farms that have leftover stock, which also adds to the community effort of the project. We unload all of that and deposit it onto the straw, while dealing with Lowen affectionately handing us a dog toy in between.

And finally, before our shift ends, we’re sent to poo-pick in one of the fields and wheel it back to the main site to deposit it in one of the tractors. The experience is hardly glamorous, but it is a part of the volunteering experience nonetheless. As a whole, I appreciate it and am thankful to be given the chance to do some physical work while making a visible difference to the site.

For an organisation like the Flicka Foundation, volunteer work is integral, as they rely on the goodwill of others willing to pitch in their spare time. The sales from the gift shops and tea rooms and donations from loyal followers and patrons (Paul O’ Grady is one of Flicka’s most famous backers), besides local farmers sharing their supplies and stock, all help keep the sanctuary afloat.

The other Project Leader, Sasha Pinto (Third-Year BSc Zoology), has a similar level of experience to Joanna with animal handling at an early age. When asked what motivates her to work for this organisation, she says:

‘There is nothing better than watching a donkey who was so oppressed by pain, illness and depression before arriving with us, flourish under our care and start showing us their personality, especially when that personality turns out to be quite a cheeky one! I also think that when humans have caused these animals suffering, and in a world where our actions continue to jeopardise the environment in which they live, it is our responsibility to care for them and ensure they are never made to suffer again.’

Greater awareness of the Flicka Foundation has also been achieved through quiz nights, raffles and bake sales as well as ‘Donkeys on Campus’ events, raising over £800 this year for the sanctuary. Regarding what other people can do to spread awareness of this charity, Sasha says:

‘So much can be done for raising awareness of the Flicka Foundation and the incredible work the staff up there do – whether that is by sharing our social media activity or simply telling a friend. Getting the message out there not just about what we do, but why we do it, is a hugely valuable to the sanctuary and the donkeys who live there.’