“Donkeys are unique, a bit special. I like that about them because anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit different too. I always wanted to find a way to run a business involving the donkeys on our farm, lockdown gave me the time to think it through and realise I could do it.”

Robert Wallace, 24 from Ballynahinch, is a hotel receptionist however due Covid he hasn’t been able to work for much of the past year. Robert lives on an ex dairy farm with his family where they have 25 donkeys, he decided to use the time during lockdown to explore his business idea of setting up a donkey assisted therapy and activity farm.

“I grew up surrounded by donkeys and fell in love with them. Some people think they are stubborn or a bit mean, but they are intelligent and very responsive, if they trust you they will do anything for you.

“Before Covid we regularly took the donkeys to nursing homes, a lot of people have memories of donkeys from their childhood and they are great for dementia patients. Our donkeys have also been on TV on Countryfile and Blue Peter and even been on stage in an opera at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.”

When lockdown began and Robert could no longer take the donkeys to nursing homes or events he used the time to tidy up the donkey’s yard and posted pictures of them to the farm’s Facebook page. The pictures got a great reaction and when people started to ask when they could come to visit Robert decided to look into his business idea.

“There was such a great reaction to the pictures that I began to realise people would really love coming to the farm and meeting the donkeys. I spent the first lockdown getting everything ready and then in August we opened Kinedale Donkeys to visitors for the first time.

“People can choose a donkey, groom them, walk them, do an obstacle course with them and finish with a carriage ride. The feedback was amazing, people said that they found the experience really relaxing and that they just forgot their troubles.”

With it clear the idea was viable, Robert wanted to learn more about running a business so signed up to take part in The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme. Enterprise is a free, three-day course for 16–30-year-olds that covers the basics of starting a business and provides access to start up finance support if needed.

“I was nervous before the programme and not sure what to expect but by the end of the course I was buzzing and knew that if I put my mind to it I could make it a success.

“My biggest fear with the business was that I would do something wrong with the finances but on the course an accountant explained how to do taxes and made it all seem manageable. The enthusiasm and support I received from The Prince’s Trust has rejuvenated my determination and I can’t wait to keep building the business.”