Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary to close leaving campaigners gutted

Ivybridge’s Donkey Sanctuary is to close due to financial pressures leaving campaigners who fought to keep it open “gutted”. Bosses at the Devon-headquartered charity have confirmed that, following a consultation, they are to shut the Ivybridge centre despite more than 4,500 people signing a petition to keep it open.

Bosses are also shutting other Donkey Assisted Activity Centres in Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, with another in Belfast being scaled back into a small sanctuary and rehoming centre. The main site in Sidmouth is not included and continues to operate.

In total 57 workers have been under consultation for redundancy, with 11 of them at the Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary, in Filham Park, The Ivybridge centre is home to 21 donkeys and Donkey Sanctuary bosses have not said whether the land will be sold.


Volunteers at the Ivybridge centre said the way they and other staff had been treated was “appalling” and said they are worried about the welfare of the donkeys. Dawn Blatchford, from Plymouth and one of the campaigners who had been fighting for the Ivybridge sanctuary to remain open, said: “To say we are all gutted is an understatement and the way everyone has been treated is appalling.

“We don't want the donkeys to suffer, people still need to support the donkeys and we have some amazing memories of being part of one big happy family at Ivybridge - the staff, volunteers and the donkeys, no one can take these away from us ever - but the sanctuary must know that they can't treat people like this.”

The campaigners started a petition on Change.org to Keep the Ivybridge Donkey Sanctuary Open. The petition, which has received 4,511 signatures, said: “This sanctuary is an invaluable resource for our community, providing therapeutic benefits to many individuals who struggle with mental health issues. Losing it would be devastating not only to the animals but also to those who rely on its services.”

Bosses at the Donkey Sanctuary began a consultation in May on the potential closure of the four sites. A spokesperson from The Donkey Sanctuary today said: “We have now completed a collective consultation process which gave careful consideration to the changes we proposed in May. In light of this, we will shortly be closing operational activities at four of our centres and repurposing our Belfast centre.

“These changes were proposed in order to make best use of our donors’ money and focus on our core mission to improve the lives of donkeys here in the UK and around the world. We will now assess each of our donkeys’ individual requirements so we can start the process of moving them from the centres to their new homes. As the collective consultation has ended, we are now entering a process of individual consultation with staff from the centres affected.”

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Elisabeth Svendsen in Devon and became a charity in 1973. It went on to become one of the largest equine charities in the world with an annual income and expenditure of £37m.

Its headquarters are at Slade House Farm, in Sidmouth, from where the charity oversees international operations worldwide. More than 14,500 donkeys have been looked after by the charity in the UK and Ireland.

After the consultations were announced in May, the Ivybrigde campaigners revealed their “disgust” after learning charity bosses had been earning up to £130,000 a year. A group of eight volunteers at the sanctuary wrote to leading politicians and started a petition in a bid to protect the facility from closure.

Accounts for The Donkey Sanctuary revealed 14 workers were paid more than £60,000 in 2022. Documents published with the Charity Commission showed one executive earned between £120,000 and £130,000, and another between £100,000 and £110,000, with three paid more than £90,000 and four more earning above £80,000.

The accounts revealed the Donkey Sanctuary, one of the largest equine charities in the world, had an income of £57.395m in 2022, of which £51.65m came from donations and legacies. The charity spent £35.95m on its charitable activities, but banked £7.66m for future use.

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