Growing rays of sunshine for Action Mental Health

Carole Gribben (right) and her mother Margaret Huddleson, with some of their adorable alpaca herd.

The owner of a small alpaca herd is adorning her land with one of nature’s brightest flora to help raise money for Action Mental Health.

Carole Gribben and her mother, Margaret Huddleson, have sprinkled thousands of sunflower seeds across two acres of fields at their Dromore farm ahead of a planned unveiling later this summer.

If the weather is kind and the land produces the field of gold the mother and daughter team is aiming to welcome members of the public to marvel at the floral bursts of sunshine, for a small entry free in aid of Action Mental Health. Another local mental health charity, Emerge Counselling Service, will also benefit from the fundraising initiative.

Carole and Margaret have already raised funds for Action Mental Health by sharing their efforts to brighten the County Down countryside with the involvement of local schools. A number of nurseries and primary schools have enthusiastically taken up the gauntlet by purchasing the seeds – with the proceeds going to Action Mental Health – and sowing them, to enjoy in the classroom and at home.

The desire to raise funds for a mental health charity like Action Mental Health stems from similar inspiration that prompted Carole’s purchase of the alpacas.

“I lived for many years in Great Britain, where they are more common – numbering up to approximately 25,000 and I always wanted to have alpacas. When I moved back to Northern Ireland I really started to think seriously about it, talking it over with family members, and researching these fantastic, gentle and curious animals and the positive benefits they bring to one’s mental health and well-being. The decision was made and two pregnant females arrived to start our herd in October 2019, with two female cria (baby alpaca) born in April and June 2020.

“Owning alpacas is addictive so we hope to grow our herd. The long term goal is to use these exotic animals in animal assisted interventions alongside counsellor practitioners and complementary therapies.”

Carole cited studies and evidence into the benefits of the camelid creatures to people’s mental well-being. According to a former paramedic and qualified counsellor, Victoria Barrett of Simply Alpaca in Worcestershire, alpacas are great candidates for Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and can help in the treatment of patients with depression and anxiety, as well as victims of abuse and trauma.

Carole added: “As a family, like many across Northern Ireland, we have all taken a hit with our mental health. We have been inspired by so many who have fundraised during 2020, so feel it is our turn to support a charity such as AMH and give a little back in 2021.”

Rowan Hill Alpacas is looking forward to seeing online images of the sunflowers grown by the participating schools and is asking parents of the children involved to share pictures of the growing sunflowers.

Carole is cautiously optimistic that her field will bear fruit – or flowers!

“The field of gold is currently a waist high field of green and not having grown sunflowers before it is hard to tell what we have!” she quipped.

“Will this be fields of gold or “flowers” in the wrong places (weeds)? The aim is to open the  land to visitors in August. Watch this space for updates!”

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