This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Donkey Sanctuary in Britain, and a host of special events will kick off on January 23, which would have been the 89th birthday of founder Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE.
Since 1969, The Donkey Sanctuary has been pushing for a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering and their contribution to humanity is fully valued. With dedication and compassion, this work continues to this day, inspired by the vision that Dr Svendsen started all those years ago.
An awareness-raising highlight of the year will be presenting an artisan garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May. The ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden will act as a focal point to celebrate the milestone year and showcase The Donkey Sanctuary’s international work.
To coincide with the launch, the charity is releasing a selection of archive images, many of which show Dr Svendsen, known affectionately as ‘Dr S’, at work during the early days of the charity.
The Donkey Sanctuary has grown into the world’s largest equine charity and is now one of the biggest employers in east Devon, benefitting the local economy exponentially. It all began when Dr Svendsen acquired her first donkey, Naughty Face, in 1969. Shortly after, she was so shocked by the appalling condition of seven donkeys on sale at an Exeter market that she decided to dedicate her life to saving donkeys in distress.
A new event to help mark the landmark year will be the inaugural ‘Dawdle for Donkeys’ in June. A 5km and 10km course will take in the beautiful countryside around the Sidmouth sanctuary overlooking the world-famous Jurassic Coast. It is the perfect way for family and friends to get out and about and raise funds for donkeys.
Commemorative memorabilia will also be available to purchase from the Gift Shop at the international headquarters in Sidmouth. Unique items include anniversary mugs, tea towels and key rings, and a specially commissioned Monopoly board game, with all profits going towards helping donkeys in need.
Dawn Vincent, head of communications at The Donkey Sanctuary and granddaughter of founder Dr S says: “My granny’s story is just incredible, she was a successful businesswoman and was looking to start breeding donkeys of her own. But when she saw the state of a group of donkeys in a market, she decided she needed to do something.
“She never stopped coming up with ideas on how she could improve the lives of donkeys and people. She was a trained nursery teacher and developed the donkey-assisted therapy work with children. When she travelled abroad, she saw how donkeys were suffering and wanted to help them too. Now we have a huge global programme working in 40 countries.
“The 50th year milestone is truly amazing, but not something that should be taken for granted, On behalf of my granny and all the staff, I would like to say that we couldn’t do any of this without the support we have had over the years. Dr Svendsen recognised the importance of keeping our supporters in touch with what we do, and thanked everyone for their donation, no matter how big or small, and we have maintained those values to this day.”
Vincent said that over the past 12 months the charity had some of the most significant rescues that she can remember. “I have also been privileged to have seen some of our projects around the world and I can vouch that there are millions of donkeys still suffering. If it wasn’t for charities such as The Donkey Sanctuary, there would be no-one looking out for them and alleviating their suffering. Our charity is as important ever, we’ve got so much work to do we’ll be here for another 50 years and beyond I’m certain.”
• At the Chelsea Flower Show, the charity’s ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden will use water as its central theme. The garden will demonstrate how owning a donkey means access to clean, fresh water for some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world.
The garden will be brought to life by North Devon’s Williams and Prebensen Garden Designs, who won a Gold Medal and Best in Show at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010 for an Artisan Garden celebrating a Devon-based music festival.
The key design feature of the ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden is a path traversing from bottom left to top right representing the many journeys donkeys carry out on behalf of communities where no ‘white van’ or family car can travel. The garden will also feature a shelter and a well with a dripping bucket.
In places like Namibia, Lamu, Somalia and Ethiopia, donkeys are used to collect water for whole communities. A donkey will often collect 40 – 60 litres of water at one time. The simple act of a donkey carrying water reduces the time required to access it, freeing children to get an education and women to be economically active.
The planting of the ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden is suggestive of the dry Mediterranean. Bright vibrant flowers will bring beauty and colour to the harsh surroundings of the garden. Natural reclaimed stone and timber will be used throughout, providing visual cohesion and authenticity.
The garden is being made possibly thanks to a donation from a long-term supporter, expressly for a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower to showcase The Donkey Sanctuary’s international work and to highlight the plight of donkeys and their contribution to humanity.