Therapeutic donkey project set for prime-time TV fame on National Lottery advert
PUBLISHED: 15:04 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:34 19 September 2019
A prime-time TV audience of millions awaits for an unsung Norfolk hero and her heart-warming mini donkeys - which will feature in an advert break during Britain's Got Talent on Saturday.
The National Lottery's "Big Surprise" is a 90-second weekly ITV slot which celebrates people who have made a difference to the lives of others, with the help of lottery funding.
This weekend it will feature Sarah McPherson, founder of Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing, a social enterprise that takes friendly animals into community, dementia or special needs groups to bring a much-needed lift to people with life-limiting conditions.
Her Big Surprise was filmed in front of the August Bank Holiday crowds at the Aylsham Show, where she unwittingly became the central attraction in the main arena, following an emotional introduction from her colleague Steph Collingbourne.
She was then joined by her team of volunteers and the project's seven miniature donkeys, sporting rugs emblazoned with message of thanks.
"This is an incredible surprise, especially as I thought I was just getting an ice cream," she said. "I'm over the moon and honoured, especially to be recognised at Aylsham Show, that makes it so special.
"Seeing all our mini donkeys and the incredible army of volunteers who tirelessly support our project all together makes me so happy. Setting up the project is without doubt the best thing I have ever done and I'm so grateful to everyone for helping get us to this point."
Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing, based in south Norfolk, was initially awarded £10,000 of National Lottery funding in 2017 to help the project purchase a specialised lorry and deliver training so volunteers could take the therapeutic animals to settings such as older peoples' homes, special schools and hospitals across Norfolk and Suffolk.
In May, the team won a further £49,730 of funding from The People's Projects fund, voted for by the public. That allowed the project to consolidate for the immediate future, and it has long-term plans to open a fully-accessible mini donkey care farm, which could require another £1m in grants and fundraising.
Miniature Donkeys for Wellbeing is one of around 2,800 Norfolk projects to have been funded by The National Lottery, amounting to around £118m in grants.
- The Big Surprise will air on ITV during an advert break in Britain's Got Talent: The Champions on Saturday, September 21 - with around five million people expected to tune in across the network.