Blog written by Becky Higgins
A day in the life of an Early Help Hub VCS co-ordinator can include a huge variety of experiences: From office based signposting for families, locating organisations and support in the community, linking organisations and creating networking opportunities to visiting fantastic people and organisations which support children and their families.
This day was one of those days when I had arranged a visit to Chy Lowen Alpaca’s, Tregaswith (CHAT), after hearing about their work at a networking meeting in Newquay.
CHAT is a non-profit organisation which uses alpaca’s, llamas and ponies to deliver Animal Assisted Intervention to anyone who needs it!
I arrived on a drizzly day to be enthusiastically greeted by Mary Harvey, who runs the project along with Mike Ferkin. I was welcomed into a cosy cabin and given a high viz vest to wear. A young person, who was a regular attendee, arrived and started to tell me about the animals, her mother explained that they come here regularly to help her child to gain confidence and boost self-esteem around some learning difficulties.
Next to arrive was a young adult with his carer, another regular who immediately got started with filling water containers. Mary, the young person and I walked up the road to collect 2 of the ponies. We had a wonderful welcome from Wally, Billy and Charlie who were keen to be led to the centre. I stood back and watched as Mary subtly supported the young person, who then proudly led Charlie to the stall where the ponies were fed. Once happily chomping away on food prepared by the 2 young people, who helped each other sort out the breakfast, we then headed on to the next task.
In the alpaca and llama field eager faces met our arrival, eyeing the feeding buckets we carried. We were joined by another young adult who brought some grapes as treats for her favourite alpaca Reuben, and some medical supplies as a general donation. I was told about the different backgrounds and personalities of the alpacas and llamas, many of whom were rescued themselves and are all individual characters.
Mary explained that they do not charge for their sessions but are happy to accept donations, whether money towards insurance or in the form of animal food or items they need. This supplements the money raised by loyal volunteers at events, and items made from alpaca wool which are sold to raise funds. In a short time the animals were munching happily and being hand fed extra grapes by the young people there. I took the opportunity to take some photos, whilst keeping a wary eye on a llama who had a suspicious look on his face! Another young person arrived and a round of knuckle bumping ensued amongst the youngsters before heading to the cabin for refreshments.
Although their individual needs were different and there was quite an age range between the people there, it was noticeable how they all helped each other to care for the animals either supported by Mary or spontaneously reacting when needed. Mary explained that it is a positive environment with a culture of kindness and positivity. There is no referral process and they support adults and children in need of this type of therapy with no fixed fee. Whether it’s emotional or mental health difficulties, lack of confidence and self-esteem, youth offending, bereavement, bullying, bad life experiences ………. the list is endless. Mary and the animals are accepting and non-judgemental in the support they offer.
I reluctantly came away but left with a feeling of happiness, it’s always a joy to meet people who give their time so passionately and selflessly to support others through voluntary action. I know the Disabled Children’s Team, Early Help Hub and Early Help staff will be excited to be able to signpost families to this fantastic organisation.