CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth unveils new visitor centre

PUBLISHED: 09:35 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:24 19 March 2018

Children meet donkeys at the sanctuary

Children meet donkeys at the sanctuary

Matt Austin

A new visitor centre at The Donkey Sanctuary sheds new light on the charity’s global mission, writes Owen Jones.

It is already one of Devon’s best-known attractions, drawing in an estimated 320,000 visitors a year. Now The Donkey Sanctuary has unveiled a new visitor centre, to help explain how it works in Britain and across the world to help improve the lives of these often mistreated beasts of burden.

That work – coordinated from a beautiful farm on the coast near Sidmouth – includes campaigning, education, rehoming and even using donkeys as therapy.

“We’re not just a farm on the top of a hill where donkeys are looked after!” says Dawn Vincent, the charity’s head of communications. It’s that message the charity wants to get across to the holidaymakers and locals who will visit the sanctuary this year.

Finding out what a mobile unit doesFinding out what a mobile unit does

I meet Dawn in The Kitchen, a new 200-seat restaurant on the site serving breakfasts, lunches, coffee and cakes. The fabulous views alone make it worth a visit – looking down across green fields (and donkeys) to the sea.

She explains the wide-ranging work of the charity, which was founded by her grandmother, Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, 49 years ago.

When we meet, in February, Dawn is just about to leave for Spain, continuing the charity’s 31-year campaign against the use of a donkey in the annual Peropalo festival at Villanueva de le Vera. The small donkey, dragged through noisy and crowded streets, must be terrified, she says.

Dr Svendsen's hutDr Svendsen's hut

Another ongoing campaign aims to halt the rapidly growing trade in donkey skins, which are used in a traditional Chinese remedy called ejiao.

Education work involves charity workers travelling to remote communities in far flung places to teach people how to look after working donkeys better.

The Donkey Sanctuary received some £38 million in donations last year for its work here and abroad. It employs 650 people worldwide, including 10 vets at a purpose-built donkey hospital near Sidmouth. Its work reaches 1.6 million donkeys globally.

Learning about the history of donkeysLearning about the history of donkeys

It has 10 sanctuaries around the UK and Europe providing lifelong care to more than 6,000 donkeys and mules.

Explaining some of this work, in a fun way, is at the heart of the new £140,000 visitor centre.

The story of donkeys through the ages is told using clever interpretation panels.

Inside Dr Svendsen's hutInside Dr Svendsen's hut

There’s plenty to entertain both young and older visitors, with interactive displays, a static Land Rover to climb over and one of the largest spinning globes in the UK which shows how donkeys are used across the world.

A lovely touch is a little wooden hut – situated in a butterfly garden where charity founder Dr Svendsen had her original summer house. Answer the old-fashioned telephone on the desk she once used and you’ll hear a recording of her voice, explaining why she started The Donkey Sanctuary.

For Dawn, who lost her granny in 2011, it’s an emotional reminder of the determined woman who went into action after seeing poorly-treated donkeys at Exeter market.

A donkeyA donkey

There’s no charge to visit The Donkey Sanctuary, making it a great day out for families.

Of course the animals are the biggest reason to visit – donkeys and mules rescued from mistreatment or relinquished into the charity’s care, now happy to spend their time with visitors.

But there are also great walks around the farm and down to the coast path and to nearby Weston Mouth beach – where in the past donkeys used to be employed to haul seaweed for fertilising local cliff top potato fields.

Learning about donkey parasitesLearning about donkey parasites

And there’s a large gift shop with a huge range of donkey-themed gifts including some colourful fun kitchenware.

Learn more at


- Dr Elisabeth Svendsen created The Donkey Sanctuary in 1969

- Her first donkey was called Naughty Face

- The Donkey Sanctuary is free to visit and is open every day of the year

- The charity is supported by 1,000 volunteers who give their time to help donkeys

- There’s a waiting list of people willing to rehome donkeys for the charity

- You can adopt one of nine donkeys at the sanctuary and receive regular updates on their lives

- Donkeys live a long time. The sanctuary’s oldest was 59 and the average age of donkeys at Slade House Farm is 27

Take our donkey-themed quiz to see how much you know about this magnificent beast!


Follow Devon Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About


Now is the perfect time to head for the bright lights of Exeter, where you can hunker down in one of the city’s many pubs, cafés and indoor attractions. Here’s our pick of the best places to keep warm, dry and entertained | Words: Chrissy Harris

Read more

From cosy pubs galore to winter beach walks, there’s plenty to enjoy in Devon at Christmas. We list 19 reasons you should come visit us this December.

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is particularly stunning at this time of year and so we’ve picked out 18 stunning pictures that encapsulate the county during the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A South Devon walk along a wreck-rich coastline with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the latest of our 24-hour tours of Devon’s best locations, we head to Britain’s Ocean City

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search