On a sunny day in rural Buckinghamshire, we meet Sarah, the founder of Animal Antiks. It's a working farm striving to make a difference, where animals are the aid for therapy and education. In an interview interrupted by the birth of a baby alpaca (since named Aggie), we chat with Sarah and a few members of her team about alpaca walks, mental health and one pair of particularly fickle rams.

Left to right: Fergus, Sioux, Jack, Tina, Sarah, Sumo, Limahl, Frankie, Ieuan and Tom.

So, what exactly is an alpaca walk?

Sarah: It really is as simple as a walk with alpacas. The combination of being around animals, outside and getting active can transform a person’s mental health. We do walks with Mind’s Buckinghamshire branch, with groups mostly made up of people who are just coming out of hospital. Some of them may have been sectioned, some suffer with anxiety and depression. They come here and they go on a walk. They don’t feel like they have to talk to anybody. They’ve each just got an alpaca, which becomes the common ground.

Can you talk us through the benefits?

Sarah: Out in the fresh air, you see the anxiety start to reduce. We take on a group for eight weeks. We start with just small walks, building up to the top of that big hill, so there are physical benefits too. Watching people’s confidence grow is amazing. Everyone always ends up with a favourite alpaca and sometimes even having the confidence to ask for a particular one is huge.

Frankie: You see it in their body language, and as the group gets more confident, their questions about the alpacas get harder. I’m sure they go home and do research to try and catch us out.

Sarah: We started it just before Covid-19, and we were able to keep it going through lockdowns which was a lifeline because all other Bucks Mind activities ceased.

What else does the farm do?

Sarah: For adults, we run the alpaca walks, the cuddle club (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and the country club for older people in the community. But we work with loads of ages, from 10-year-olds to teenagers to those in their 60s.

Ieuan: That’s how I got this job. I struggled in school, so I came for day sessions each week. And at the end of it, I got a job here.

Tom: Same here. Everyone finds their own benefits of being on the farm. For some it’s more about mental health, feeling calm, connecting with people or nature. For me, it was about finding my feet. Finding a sense of belonging.

What’s your favourite animal on the farm?

Jack: It’s the guinea pigs for me. I just like how easy they are to handle.

Tom: I like Eric and Charlie. They’re the two rams. They’re very in tune with your emotions. If you’re not in the best form, they will probably treat you equally as badly. You’ve got to be well-behaved around them.

Sioux: For me it’s the pigs. They’re the farm equivalent of marmite. People either love them or hate them. We had a litter born days ago. Little Percy, Peppa, Babe and Crackles.

What’s next for the farm?

Sarah: Well in the last five minutes we’ve had a baby alpaca born, so I hope they’re healthy and safe. At the moment we’re inundated with referrals for 10 to 12-year-olds, especially since Covid. We want to find out why things are so difficult for that age group and do something about that.

And finally, any favourite local walks?

Sarah: Living on a farm, I’m so lucky to have lovely walks all around me.

Frankie: But to be honest, my favourite walk is one that ends at the pub.

To find out more about the work of Animal Antiks, check out their website and follow them on Instagram.