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  • Writer's pictureTracy Tristram

Fun days out with kids: Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Essex

Updated: Apr 9

things to do in London with kids Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

We love a day out with the kids in all pockets of London town, but one of our faves happens to be not too far from London for Kidz HQ on the London/Essex border: Hopefield Animal Sanctuary. Cows, horses, pigs... you name it and you'll probably find it amongst the 600 residents spanning 100 species of animals you'll meet on this udderly lovely activity near London. The sanctuary has just re-opened, and there are some fantastic events lined up in the coming months (as well as general admission). Here's everything you need to know...

About Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary was founded in 1983 by the fabulous Paula and Ernie Clark after a ridiculously cold winter brought them news of ponies and cobs being abandoned by their owners on Rainham marshes. That was enough for them to take action and start helping animals that needed them, and now, nearly 40 years later, there are over 500 animals being cared for and nursed back to health over countryside covering 53 acres in Essex. Sadly, Paula lost her battle with cancer in September 2009 and Ernie passed away in September 2011, but their legacy is an amazing sanctuary that is not only giving animals in need the safety and help they need, but is also the most charming of places for families to visit and support.

What animals can we see at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary
Chewie and the rest of the Alpacas are not to be missed. Photography: London for Kidz

As soon as you pass through the gates into Hopefield Animal Sanctuary you'll be greeted by literally all creatures great and small. From Jack the Bull to Chewie the Alpaca, all the residents at Hopefield come with their own story - often a sad one - and it's overwhelmingly wonderful to see them thriving in their open spaces and cosy homes. Our fave? It's hard to pick but we do have a big soft spot for all the donkeys, Chip the cow, Tilly the cat and Jammy Dodger the pig. There are so many furries, scalies and featheries to meet that you'll need a good couple of hours to get around and meet everyone!

There are all the usual animals you would expect to find in a sanctuary (a large number of which you can sponsor!), and there are characters aplenty to look out for. Do also have a chat with the keepers too: they're without fail always happy to tell you more about the animals they care for, and have some brilliant inside stories to tell you about the cheeky souls who live at Hopefield!

Important update regarding the future of Hopefield

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary review
CEO, Dave. Photography: Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

Sadly the more exotic residents won't be on display all of the time, and Dave, the CEO, and Lianne, the General Manager explain why:

"As you may remember, back in 2020, we announced that we were going to have to apply for a zoo license – not because we wanted to, but because it was a legal requirement due to the animals we have in our care, and the number of days per year that we’re open to the public. We were led to believe that this was merely a paperwork formality, and wouldn’t have an effect on how the sanctuary itself is run, however, this turned out to not be the case.

Following a meeting with our local council towards the end of 2022, we have made the decision to not apply for our license. We feel as though it hugely contradicts our morals and ethics, and as a sanctuary that rescues animals, there are many elements that we just couldn’t agree to, such as having to remove “imperfect” animals from public display, euthanizing any animals dumped at the gate, breeding as part as conservation, and so much more. We were told we would have to be a zoo first and foremost, with the rescue element being pushed aside.

It seems absurd to us that you can go online and buy these exotics animals, but a rescue whose sole purpose is to ensure these animals are safe and cared for isn’t able to without facing restrictions that will hugely affect us. Perhaps if these animals weren’t able to enter the country in the first place, there wouldn’t be a need for exotic animal rescues.

With this being said, it does mean that there are going to be some significant changes that you’ll notice – with the main one being our exotic animals will no longer be on public display, except for 6 days a year (which is all we’re allowed without the zoo license) where we’ll hold full “open days” – more details about these will be announced over the coming weeks.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly on We appreciate your continued support, and hope to see you at the sanctuary when we re-open from beginning of April."

Yep, it seems utterly ludicrous that this amazing place has to jump through so many hoops to keep on doing what they're doing, but we know that Hopefield Animal Sanctuary will always be fabulous to visit no matter what red tape it faces, especially with public support behind them.

Is there somewhere to get food and drink at Hopefield?

things to do in London with kids
Photography: London for Kidz

Max’s Café is named after Max the Bull, who was saved from the dairy industry when he was going to be slaughtered for being a boy, so he makes the perfect mascot for the plant-based café. Whether you're vegan or not, there's something delish on the menu that will be a winner with the whole family.

There is also plenty of outdoor seating areas (in a great playground) as well as a marquee to bring your food (and picnics) to. Our kids love sitting on the hay bales in the field for their snacks, and there's plenty of room for a game of football in that area too.

All the deets

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary
Smiles all round when you visit Hopefield! Photography: London for Kidz

Where: Sawyers Hall Lane, Brentwood, Essex CM15 9BZ

When: Every day during school holidays 10am until 4pm, Friday to Monday 10am until 3pm during term time.

Tickets: Prebooking online is not essential but recommended. Book here. All entrance fees go directly to the sanctuary and are used towards the continuous care and support of the animals. Well behaved dogs on leads also welcome!

Top image: London for Kidz

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