Flory Sanderson believes her Hampshire farm helps spread Christmas spirit all year.
She opened Island Hill Farm to the public four years ago to educate people, not realizing it would quickly become a place where people sought some mental health therapy.
Seeing the effect her animals had on people turned her into a believer.
“No, I don’t think I knew animal therapy or seeing animals (with people) or just the care that I give them really impacted people,’’ Sanderson said. “I didn’t believe, but now I believe that I have something great, so why not share it?’’
The Christmas spirit is alive and well at the farm.
A group of students recently dropped by one morning after exams while one family stopped during The Guardian interview. In both cases, it was for some mental health therapy.
Ted Bradbury of Stratford and his family were strangers when they first visited the farm, but Sanderson now considers them family.
Bradbury is a former RCMP officer who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Musically inclined, he comes out to the farm once in a while to play drums in the barn around the animals.
“Island Hill Farm is my little piece of heaven,’’ Bradbury said. “It’s a place you can come to and you feel relaxed and you don’t have to worry about anything else. It absorbs you, really.’’
Bradbury said he has two favourite places on Earth – the beach and Island Hill Farm.
Sanderson said she didn’t believe her farm was going to have this effect on people until she saw them interact with her animals.
“I didn’t realize how many people feel what I feel. Just watching children melt or dads melt when they’re holding these animals that they’ve never got to hold before . . . watching people almost settle into themselves is pretty amazing.’’
What separates her farm from things like agricultural fairs, which have animals on display, is people can touch and cuddle her animals. They’re used to people. They crave attention, not food.
“Most places have them in a penned off area. You don’t really get to interact with them for safety (reasons). I wanted something where you could interact with them while teaching and educating people how to love them.
“The animals come, and they pick you. You look on our Instagram pictures and there’s a picture of a goat pawing a little girl saying ‘Hey, look at me, pet me’. They actually do want your affection.’’
One of Sanderson’s volunteers calls the farm’s goats her “soul goats’’.
“My barn looks like a normal barn (but) it’s like a magical oasis. You really forget (the problems) you are having behind you. When you walk in, there’s chandeliers, there’s lights decorated and it’s huge and authentic and a real cozy, warm, welcoming feeling.’’
The Guardian’s I Believe series, which will be published both in print and online between now and Christmas, will include inspirational and uplifting stories to get us in the holiday spirit. If you have a story that you believe should be part of the I Believe series, please email email@example.com.
Other stories in the I Believe series: