(Pictured above: Employees in the U.K. from Time Warner Corporate, Turner Broadcasting, IPC Media and Warner Bros. recently volunteered at Mudchute Park & Farm in London.)
It’s one of life’s undeniable truths that you will rarely spot a horse at sea. Goats are perhaps less rare - though certainly infrequent - while alpacas, generally, avoid sailing. As editor of Yachting and Boating World, I am probably the person least likely to encounter any animals without fins, gills or blowholes while on the company clock, despite my predilection for furry friends and heavy-handed hints to the staff at Horse & Hound.
Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that the Time Warner volunteer day would be taking place on a FARM on the Isle of DOGS, no less. Mudchute Farm sits atop a fertile island in the middle of the Thames, which grew from the debris carted away from the excavation of Millwall Dock in the 1860s. Henry VIII once used the island as a home for the royal hounds, hence its striking name, and the site was a base for anti-aircraft guns during the World Wars, one of which can be still be seen on the site.
Despite its historical location, Mudchute Farm is an incredibly modern and vibrant enterprise. There are over 25 horses in its popular riding school, short-shanked pygmy goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and alpaca are all cared for on their 32-acre estate, as well as rare breed birds, ferrets, guinea pigs and rabbits. Feeding and housing these animals is a huge task – the monthly bill for straw is around £1000 ($1,521 in U.S. dollars), we are told – and it became clear that having 45 extra pairs of hands to help with essential maintenance work would make all the difference to this community farm.
On arrival we were divided up into three groups for painting, construction or working within the animal enclosures (see photos below). I noticed a few familiar faces from IPC but soon got chatting to other team members from Time Warner and Turner as we worked together sanding down stable doors and painting them with primer. It was fairly hard work, particularly as the weather was biblical in a ‘Noah-and-the-Ark’ sense, lashing with unceasing rain until late in the afternoon. Spirits were high though, particularly among those of us who kept getting distracted by the beautiful horses watching us at work, sneaking off to feed them discreet minty treats and talking to them in what I’m sure they thought were demeaning voices.
After a nice lunch chatting to some more friendly new faces, work resumed and the weather worsened. Some of the painting work had to be abandoned but we were given other jobs to do, with some of the team members who had suffered the worst of the rain in the morning allowed to paint paper mache models of London landmarks in a cosy classroom. There was a spikey Millennium Dome and an even spikier shard, a wobbly wire cable car and cute yoghurt pot telephone boxes painted red, all destined to be displayed as part of a Chelsea Flower Show fringe event happening at Mudchute on the following day.
Such events happen frequently at the farm – around 150,000 children pass through its doors every year and it plays an important role in working with schools and community groups to teach young people about the environment. The farm survives on grants and donations from the public so we could see what a big difference free materials and a willing workforce could make in balancing their budget.
As the day started winding down we could see the fruits of our labour in the main courtyard, where newly painted walls and doors gave the place a fresh look. As a thank you we were given a tour of the farm, where a baby sheep nuzzled my hand – and if that’s never happened to you I suggest you remedy it as soon as possible – then we piled into the nearby pub for drinks ON THE HOUSE. It was a perfect example of a win-win scenario – I got to hang out with the animals, I did something for a community that made me feel good, made lots of new friends and got free booze at the end of it.