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Epic paddling fundraiser down the River Thames for Aspens Donkeys

James Castle, Pottery Instructor and keen kayaker who works for Aspens’ charity, has kayaked the entire length of the River Thames to raise money for a more accessible home for the charity’s donkeys.

Whittenham Clumps

James, who works at the Acorns Day Centre at Aspens’ Pembury site, paddled an incredible 140 miles from Lechlade, all the way to Putney in London. Battling with strong head winds and heavy rain, James spent seven days kayaking, camping overnight at various spots along the route.

James set out at first light every day and paddled solidly for 14 hours. He says many people he saw along the route called out with words of encouragement, with one of the campsites he stayed at pledging a generous donation and some passers-by even flinging cash donations at him as he kayaked, which fortunately he managed to catch!

Mary Flockhart, another member of the Aspens team, joined James for the last ten miles of his voyage to give him some moral support.

James got the idea to raise funds for a new stable for the four donkeys who live at the Aspens’ Kent site when he began working with the gardens and animal team whilst the pottery classes had closed during lockdown.

James said: “I saw first-hand how beneficial these animals are to the welfare of our service users and residents. Seeing the pleasure and smiles on their faces when they came to feed the donkeys or give them a stroke, really struck a chord with me. Many of those we support struggle with communication, but with animals it doesn’t matter – you can still stroke a furry nose. The donkey’s stable is currently in a hard to reach spot, making it difficult for many of those that we support to access it. This is why I wanted to help raise funds to get a new, more accessible stable for them.”

Along with the donkeys, there are also pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits and guinea pigs at the Aspens’ Pembury site. These animals provide a source of great joy for those the charity supports and visitors to the site.

Robert Shanahan, CEO of Aspens, said: “What James has done for Aspens and our donkeys is absolutely wonderful. Aspens supports some of our society’s most vulnerable children, young people and adults - those with complex learning needs, disabilities and on the autism spectrum. Spending time with and helping look after the animals at our Pembury site is something they find tremendously therapeutic and enjoyable. I’d like to say a huge thanks to James for this extraordinary achievement.”

James is absolutely delighted to have now exceeded his original target of £2500, reaching an amazing £2884. His donations page is still open and James says further donations would be very welcome: “I am so grateful for all the kind support so far. Please do keep the donations coming, all the funds raised will benefit the Aspens donkeys and the people we support, who get so much joy from interacting with them.”

Well done, James! If you would like to donate to the cause, you can donate here.