STUDENTS at Headlands School in Penarth have had a real treat after four Peruvian alpacas joined them to help improve their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

The animals, known for their calm and gentle nature, make a striking sight as they roam the school grounds.

Students at the school have become actively involved in their care and the development of the outdoor space, with proven mental health benefits.

The four furry friends have joined Dexter the dog and a growing number of hens at the school.

Penarth Times: (Left to right): Carl Darlington, student Liam and teacher Dave Gillingham (Left to right): Carl Darlington, student Liam and teacher Dave Gillingham

David Gillingham, a teacher overseeing the care of the alpacas, says the impact of the animals has been particularly important since the children returned to school earlier this month.

“We are redeveloping a huge area of outdoor space for the alpacas and hens and have a group of students working with us on the project that have really flourished,” he said.

“Where they have been previously unengaged in academic work, they have relished the physical work and the autonomy we give them in building and maintaining the space.

Penarth Times: Alpaca at HeadlandsAlpaca at Headlands

“Casey Jones, a student aged 15, said: "I enjoy working outdoors and caring for the alpacas.

"They are lovely and interesting animals that seem to have a calming impact on other students too.

"We are building feeding stations and picnic tables for everyone to come and enjoy the animals. This part of school is really good for me.

"When I came to Headlands last year, I was angry but I’m much better now, the atmosphere here is great and working with the animals has also helped me a lot."

Penarth Times: Alpacas roaming the grounds at Headlands schoolAlpacas roaming the grounds at Headlands school

Maxine Cahill, vice principal for care at Headlands, added: "There is a lot of research stating the positive mental health benefits of pets and interaction with animals.

"This has been key to our whole approach to this innovative initiative.

"The students here love Dexter, our companion dog and they have responded so well to the alpacas too.

"The chickens and the chicks they’ve produced have also gone down a storm and provide something for the students to care for, nurture and enjoy during a very stressful time in their young lives."