So the Varndean Goats have made it onto the TES list of the top ten most influential ‘people’ (we’re not people, we’re goats #SpeciesEd) of 2017. And we’re utterly delighted.
The goats are currently away at their country retreat for the festive season, but in true superstar style, they’ve asked me to accept this enormous accolade on their behalf.
It’s only been a year and a bit since the Goats arrived at Varndean School in Brighton. Here at Goat HQ our entire lives have been changed forever by these fabulous, furry wonders who now live in the heart of our school and are a wonderful addition to our days. And what a year it’s been!
Aside from the fun we’ve had at our daily Goat Club, where students come along every day and learn to look after, care for and have fun with the goats, our animal therapy project has also attracted the attention of the media, and we’ve featured in a huge range of publications; with our dear friends at the TES, but also many others as far away as Russia, Greece and the USA, and have featured in our very own Podcast with our friends at Pivotal Education. You may have heard about the great Goat Race for Comic Relief that we held earlier this year, when we raised well over £4000 for charitable causes, and students have continued to fundraise for our own school charities throughout the year.
We’ve been lucky enough to have done some TV appearances too – we featured on Good Morning Britain, on Latest TV, ITV Meridian News and you may also have spotted our student Goat Leaders training Ethel to tidy up her toys on Teach my Pet to Do That on ITV in September this year. Alan the Agony Goat now has his own slot on Wandsworth Radio (yes really).
We’re really proud of how much wonderful attention our project has received, and whilst the media attention is great fun & has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our students, what lies at the heart of Varndean Goats is animal therapy. Interacting with animals is a hugely important part of growing up. One of the first things we teach very young children is to recognise and the sights and sounds of animals in the books, toys and games we give them.
As toddlers grow, a trip to the farm or zoo is seen as a great treat where children delight in being around real animals, touching, learning and watching with delight, and wanting to interact with them. Many children go on to have their own pet at home, but all too often, as children get older and their lives are overtaken with school work, activities and the massive draw of TV and social media, they lose touch with that instinctive draw to be outdoors and part of the natural world.
At Goat Club we believe that everyone (child, teenager or adult) still has that child within them, and we give our students the opportunity to explore their love of fun, adventure, the outdoors and nature. We provide opportunities to learn about animal care and nurture at the same time, and we also provide a safe, quiet place during the day, where communication can be whatever you need it to be; verbal, non-verbal, a furry hug, a friendly headbutt or maybe just hanging out with your friends, four-legged or two-legged, friendship doesn’t count feet. Sometimes, when life isn’t going so well, a goat might be the only person who’s pleased to see you. We all have those days, and sometimes all it takes is a hug or a nuzzle to set it all right again.
The goats aren’t magical or special in any way, they’re (and they’ll probably eat my boots for saying this) just ordinary goats, but what we have at Varndean is a community where love, kindness and compassion are at the heart of what we do. It takes a very special Headteacher to allow his Finance lead to run with a crazy project like goatkeeping, but we do have a very, very special Headteacher, who trusted me and the underlying principles of what I was setting out to do. There was also the added bonus of a significant saving on the grounds budget in buying our own eco-friendly lawnmowers, of course.
There are many, many schools and school farms doing equally wonderful work all over the UK, who deserve far more recognition than us, but if our frolics with social media have done anything, it’s been about getting people taking about animal therapy, getting children outdoors and the power of just having fun. We’ve had enormous fun in the run up to Christmas, and have been utterly overwhelmed by the gifts and donations we’ve received from our friends across the world, who are supporting our project in whatever ways they can.
So thank you all for joining in, laughing with us, sharing our journey and having fun with us. We’ve got lots of fun things coming up in the next few weeks, a visit from our alpaca friends, a Goat Trip in the new year and lots of fun fundraising activities too, so keep watching, and keep sharing the #GoatyLove.
Happy Christmas everyone.