‘It is a donkey, isn’t it?’ a passerby asks as we saunter out of the gate, donkeys ‘n’ all. Do donkeys saunter? Perhaps they amble. Or strut. Either way, their appearance in the middle of the East End creates some rather bemused expressions on the faces of nearby pedestrians. Which surprises me. Not because I wouldn’t be surprised by the sight of two donkeys taking some volunteers for a walk round Mile End, but because I’d assumed these were locals and it strikes me as odd that, not only have they not heard of Stepney City Farm, but they haven’t even seen a donkey before… I guess that’s city living for you.
‘It’s a cow!!!’ a boy yells at us moments later, before running off down the street - in fear or exultation I’m not entirely sure. It seems such a shame that some children grow up without ever meeting farm animals. It becomes quite worrying when you consider that some of them won’t have seen in real life the animals whose meat they eat every week. So it’s great that Stepney City Farm is here to rectify that, and it’s a pleasure to see the responses people have once we stop and talk to them. For some, it takes some encouraging for them to come and stroke George and Dunstan, while others are only too pleased. What is consistent is the joy the two donkeys seem to bring to people’s afternoons. It gives us a chance to promote the farm and encourage adults and children alike to pay us a visit. More importantly, it gives the public a chance to see how wonderful these animals are and what mood-lifters they can be.
As we walk along the canal and pass a group of young lads standing around smoking, I overhear a comment that, I feel, sums it all up: ‘Donkeys are heavy, man’. Indeed. Not just an insightful comment, but a factual one too, as I can confirm after having Dunstan tread on my toe during one of his more enthusiastic nuzzles.
It’s a brilliant introduction to volunteering at the farm and a perfect way to spend an afternoon in the Big Smoke. Bring on more donkey walks!