Girl's love for animals helps Willow Tree Farm recover after lockdown

Love for animals shown by a nine-year-old Shirebrook girl is helping a popular charity recover from the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 2:42 pm
Millie (centre) and cousin Chloe with volunteer director David Taylor outside the meerkats' enclosure at Willow Tree Family Farm in Shirebrook.

Willow Tree Family Farm, which is one of Shirebrook’s prized assets, had to close for several months because of lockdowns, leaving the enterprise desperately short of funds.

Bosses admit that the Covid-19 pandemic has cost the farm more than £100,000, and that it was “only days away from closing for good”.

So Millie Wallett, who goes to Park Junior School in the town, stepped up to the plate and created her own fundraising scheme to help the Langwith Road farm woo back the visitors after re-opening earlier this month.

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"Millie just loves animals, so when she heard that Willow Tree was struggling to pay for the food and bedding of its animals, she decided to raise some money,” explained her grandmother, Helen Darby.

"She is always researching animals, and will do anything for them. She wants to be a vet when she is older.”

Millie’s idea involved making face masks to be worn during the pandemic. And with help from her 14-year-old cousin, Chloe Christer, and her other grandma, Lynn Wallett, 54, about £120 has been raised for Willow Tree.

Helen, 53, added: “The girls go to Lynn’s house at Mansfield Woodhouse at weekends. She is a seamstress and helps them make the masks out of old, recycled material, including clothes Millie and Chloe no longer need.

"In a couple of hours, they can make 20 to 30 masks, and they have been selling them to family and friends for £1.50 each.”

So delighted was Willow Tree with the girls’ efforts that it treated them to a ‘meerkat experience’.

"They were put in the meerkats’ enclosure and given a talk about the animals,” said Helen, with whom Millie and Chloe live in Shirebrook, along with grandad Steven, 52.

"The meerkats sat on their laps and were jumping all over them. It was a lovely experience.”

Willow Tree is a community charity run by dedicated volunteers, and relies entirely on donations and admission fees.

It houses a range of animals from pigs, sheep, chickens and goats to ducks, donkeys, reindeer and alpacas. Most of them have been rescued.

As well as hosting a host of innovative activities for visitors, it provides educational services, aimed particularly at combating social exclusion, and runs a mobile petting zoo that tours Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

The farm also lays on animal parties, family fun days, school workshops, holiday clubs and animal therapy for people with disabilities.

However, Willow Tree has been hit hard by the pandemic, with revenue almost drying up, so the generosity of people like Millie and Chloe is a godsend.

One of the volunteer directors, David Taylor, said: “We are unbelievably grateful, especially at a time like this.

"The girls’ donation has been amazing, It will buy us 12 bags of animal feed.

"We have lost more than £100,000 throughout the pandemic, and we were just a few days from closing for good.

"Support from the community and fundraising have got us through, and this is one of the fine examples of that community spirit.

"It will take us two years to recover from this. But the fact that people are thinking about us and the animals keeps us going.”