Animal lover borrows money to save sensory farm

DONKEY WORK: A resident at Smiles for Miles

By Grace Corcoran

A local woman has saved a sensory farm of animals from being sold on, through sheer sacrifice, hard work and the continued involvement of the community.

Located on Gill Wing Farm in Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Smiles for Miles spans 3.5 acres of farmland
and is home to an array of animals: from rabbits and pygmy goats to donkeys and rhea birds.

The farm was set up as a place to offer sensory experiences to individuals with learning difficulties and additional needs.

When the original owner of Smiles for Miles decided to move on late last year, the fate of the livestock hung in the balance. The free-roaming animals were set to be split up and sold on, and perhaps even slaughtered.

Paris Howard-Hall, who originally started volunteering at Smiles for Miles during the pandemic, could not bear the idea of the animals’ impending fate and decided to take on the farm in 2022. However, to afford to buy it, Paris needed to take out a loan while continuing to work two jobs and manage the farm, too.

“It’s an expensive hobby, but I absolutely love it,” she says.

After a difficult winter, it was doubtful whether Paris could afford to keep going. That’s when her volunteers set up a GoFundMe campaign to help her make the payments to keep the farm afloat. To Paris, keeping the animals together and the farm open to the public is what’s important.

It’s a “labour of love” and a place she knows is “special to a lot of people,” she says.

Growing up in the Ashdown Forest, Paris has spent her life surrounded by animals. Her enthusiasm for her diverse menagerie is infectious, and she has nursed some badly abused animals back to health.

A trio of pygmy goats, Henry, Kevin and Tilly, found abandoned by a railway line, arrived at the farm timid and scared of people. Paris and her team of volunteers worked tirelessly to get the three back to full strength and regain their confidence.

The goats can now be hand-fed and taken for walks through the fields by guests as part of their therapy sessions.

All animals on the farm are rescues or donations. With the collection of species growing, construction projects on the farm are now taking place to make sure the animals have what they need.

Calls for help have had a “brilliant response from the community”, she says. One man donated 30 tyres to create an enclosure and a group of 20 people on a workplace volunteer trip helped demolish a shed and build fencing.

Hutches and pens are currently under construction for rabbits, which will enable immersive and interactive therapy sessions for the guests who visit.

Paris is hoping that her funding application for the installation of a yurt, to enable those with mobility issues to be able to access the farm, will be accepted.
It is important to her that as many people as possible benefit from the therapy and experience provided.

Sessions at Smiles for Miles are one-to-one and are tailored to an individual’s needs. Paris believes
anyone can and should be able to access the farm.

Running the farm is undoubtedly ambitious. In an ideal world, she would like the farm to be able to fund itself, freeing up resources to help create her ‘vision’ for Smiles for Miles. But despite
all the challenges, Paris insists that she’s “never leaving”.

To visit Smiles for Miles or to book a session, visit:

To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign,

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