Interview with The Retreat Animal Sanctuary Founder, Billy | Our Charity Partner
To celebrate the launch of our new vegan range, we payed a visit to The Retreat Animal Sanctuary, who we will be donating £1 to for the sale of each new vegan pet accessory. The Retreat Animal Sanctuary is a completely vegan animal sanctuary in Kent with an on-site cafe. They rescue animals from abuse, neglect and the meat, egg and dairy industries. The number of animals being cared for by the retreat is over 1,000 at any one time and they operate a genuine no-kill policy, meaning no healthy animal is ever put down. We were lucky enough to be invited for a private tour with The Retreat's founder and project director, Billy, who showed us around the beautiful centre and told us the stories of many of their animal residents, including Joey the donkey, Coconut Rockstar the goat and Aries the disabled sheep (who we adopted for Bee's son's birthday!). Billy also took the time to chat with us about starting the sanctuary, what each donation means to the animals and how you can support the incredible, life-saving work that they do.
Our co-founder, Bee, with Aries the sheep
Is there a particular animal or experience that made you want to start the sanctuary?
I think there's been different stages. I think there was always a sanctuary inside me although I never knew it! There was no plan to ever have a sanctuary. When I think back, it makes me tearful, my first pony was really special to me - he was like my spirit animal if you believe in things like that. He was definitely one. I suppose there's one that represents each group of animals, there's one that represents the horses, one that represent the cows. My first cow, she was 12 days old, arrived on the front of a Citroën car! The lady that brought her became my greatest friend. When she came the sanctuary hadn't got a name, or hadn't been established to be the place that it is now. So there's been numerous animals and there's always another one that makes you keep going. There's always obstacles and knock-backs, lots of thing that aren't easy. Loosing them is not easy, but then the next day there's another animal that needs our help. So, there's probably not one particular animal - people would be cross if i chose one!
We're donating £1 for every item sold from our new vegan range - what does a pound actually look like for the sanctuary?
It's amazing. This is a good question, there's a lot of people who think "oh I'm only giving this amount" but there's not such thing as 'only giving!' Each little bird, each little fledgling that comes in during baby season, which is now, each meal for them is a penny. So if you give a pound, that's a hundred baby birds that you're feeding. Imagine the vastness of it. You could probably say each little hedgehog feed was 25p, so there you've given 4 hedgehog meals. So when people say "but what is that going to do?" it's a bit like the ocean, the ocean is made up of tiny, tiny little drops in a big, powerful ocean, and that's the sanctuary. It's not because there's one person giving millions of pounds, it's here because people are giving a pound and it just goes so far. People have got no idea how far it goes, but it definitely makes a huge difference. If people stopped giving the pounds, we wouldn't be here now. So, thank you so much.
The Retreat have their own animal ambulance and on-site wildlife hospital
How can people help support the work you do? Obviously people can donate and visit, but are there any ways that are particularly helpful to you?
For us here, the most important thing, I think, is that people visit. It's free of charge, free parking - not like the National Trust! It's free parking and free admission because we want to get people in. Even if people come once a month and they eat in the cafe, that's basically a standing order to the centre. And then there are people who can't afford to do that, so they bring us newspapers, towels and sheets, there's even someone who brings us their wood chippings! And all of those things that get brought in here save the centre having to buy those things so whatever you drop off goes a long way! Of course, you can also come and help - you can wash dishes, clean out animals - there's something for everyone. It's great that people are generous and give money but it takes a whole lot more than just money. We're always very grateful for a bit of elbow grease.
Freddy and Wolf meeting Joey the donkey, who was left behind at a property when his owners moved home
What is one piece of advice you'd give to anyone considering a vegan lifestyle?
First of all, I think if we can just get people to think of kindness. Start thinking about kindness. Our slogan is 'Be Kind, It's Easy.' And it is so easy to be kind. Nowadays, it's just as easy to pick up that carton of oat milk off the shelf as it is cow's milk and the difference it makes is huge. You can start your journey by doing things you don't even notice you're doing. Veganuary is wonderful, where people try being vegan for a month. And there's so many people doing it, I think the just had 1 million sign ups! Just reassessing what you do everyday and trying to do your best to be kind. That's my advice - be kind!
The Retreat is home to many ex-riding school horses
How important was it to you to make The Retreat a completely vegan establishment?
That's an interesting one, because the journey of the sanctuary has always, always been vegan. There wasn't always a cafe, the cafe has only been here for about 5 years now. The point was - we can't save every animal - so the educational side of it is so important. If you can give people good food and say "as vegans, we're really, really not missing out" there's nothing we can't have! There's scotch eggs in the cafe today! Who would have thought it? Actually, when I went into the cafe the first time they made scotch eggs and there was all these halved eggs laid out I nearly had a fit! Of course, there completely vegan and made in moulds so that it actually looks like an egg. That for me is actually as paramount as saving animals because we know we can't save every animal so everybody you can set on a journey of kindness, every change they make, it's going to make a difference to some little creature's life so the cafe is just so important. Same with the thrift shop - we don't sell any leather, silk, wool - and people are a bit shocked about that but the thrift shop is completely vegan and it's great for conversation. It starts everyone chatting and then you can talk about kindness. Who do you know who doesn't want to be kind?! That's a celebration of humans, you know, the majority of them do want to be kind. They may need a bit of guidance, but ultimately everyone wants to be kind. The ethos is vegan, and it's so important because we can't save every animal.
The goats were the first animals to welcome us to The Retreat
A huge thank you to Billy for taking the time out of his busy schedule to make our visit so special. We loved learning all about the animals and Wolf very much enjoyed his sausage from the cafe! We highly recommend paying a visit to The Retreat yourself so that you can see exactly what makes it so special - and enjoy some delicious vegan food! You can shop our full vegan range here, with £1 from every item purchased going directly to The Retreat. You can also read more about our vegan range here.