"A donkey was the perfect mascot for the charity"
Move over, Paddington.
Rocco, the Blackpool Carers' Centre donkey mascot, has moved to Mongolia.
Well, in one of his many parallel lives.
The time for carol singing may be over but here's one little donkey which has had a heavy year, rather than day, and knows how to make hay when the sun shines.
The original Rocco, a larger than life sized donkey mascot, is still firmly in residence in Blackpool - which was one of the first seaside resorts to come up with a beach donkeys’ charter back in 1944 covering working beach donkey rights.
While Rocco finds it hard enough to squeeze into a car his extended family - mini mascots - have been flying out of the charity’s HQ Beaverbrooks House, Newton Drive, off to pastures new and foreign climes with fans.
The mini Roccos have barely had time to put their hooves up since the charity decided to pin a ‘tale’ on the donkey – and map out his travels.
At last year’s charity ball – named the Purple Ball in honour of the BBC DIY SOS makeover team - guests were invited to take Rocco on their travels to raise awareness of carers the world over via social media hashtag #RoccoCares and @BlackpoolCarers Twitter account.
With saddle bag packed with bespoke knitted wardrobe the little donkey became a globe trotter.
He’s already featured on selfies with DIY SOS veterans Nick Knowles, Chris Frediani and Billy Bryne – although steered a wide berth of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen for fear he might turn him into a plush cushion...
In the last 12 months, he’s become the fifth Beatle in Liverpool (posing at the tribute to the fab four) and surprise-surprised Cilla Black’s statue there too.
He’s scaled mountains in Wales, visited the Vatican, dropped in on the smallest house in Britain, and joined the Malfoys on set as by far the cutest member of the Malfoy Manor family.
Down Under, Rocco was a surprise star at Carers’ Australia International Carers’ Conference in the company of NHS England Experience of Care Lead Jen Kenward.
He emerged unscathed from the mouth of a Marlin in Portugal and even braved Genghis Khan, the fearsome warrior who conquered half the known world in the 13th century.
The #RoccoCares prize – of two tickets for the charity’s Spring ball in March – has gone to retired teachers Susan and David Mitchell, of Thornton Cleveleys, who have supported the carers’ charity for several years.
Susan and David took Rocco to meet their youngest daughter Gillian, former head of performing arts and music at St Georges School, who now teaches in Mongolia. The three travelled via Paris and South Korea.
Susan explains: “We began to think of possible sites where he could be photographed.
“The Statue of Ghengis Khan is probably the most well-known and impressive feature in Mongolia. It is 40 metres tall, made of stainless steel and, when we visited, the covering of snow and the blue sky gave a stunning backdrop. It is possible to climb up inside the statue and we took our winning picture some distance off the ground. We also featured Rocco on horseback.
‘Rocco attended an Eagle festival, visited Buddhist temples, slept overnight at minus eight. The country appealed to his adventurous spirit.
“The Mongolian people were intrigued by us taking pictures of our little friend!
‘As he had enjoyed his visit so much, we left him in the nursery at the British School in Ulaanbaatar where Gillian taught.
‘Here he can play with the three and four year olds, spread some joy and learn the language in his new home.”
Kay Soper, editor of the charity’s Caring Times, concludes: “Rocco’s travelled far since the Purple Ball and our cares love hearing and reading of his adventures.
“A donkey was the perfect mascot for the charity – we love the fact that Blackpool has had a donkey charter for so long.
“A local carer came up with the name Rocco. Today there’s a Roccolina too – unofficially named by staff here. Both have their own wardrobes knitted by volunteers Christine Hayes and Sheila Olpin. Sales really help the charity.
“We’ve had so much fun looking at the #RoccoCares pictures – but there was no arguing with Genghis Khan!”
Rocco will be back on familiar turf for the charity's Spring Ball on March 3 at the Village Hotel, Blackpool - tickets £50 assist with the charity's work with unpaid carers aged from five to 105. It's become one of the highlights of the resort's social calendar. He will also be playing a leading role, as ever, in the charity's Young Carers Awareness Day activities on January 25.
If you want to meet the dapper donkey, invite him to one of your functions, visit Beaverbrooks House, go to the ball or learn more about the charity's work call Kay on (01253) 393748.
* We've given top billing to the Mitchell family in front of That giant statue - as poor little Rocco was a bit overshadowed by the mighty Genghis Khan!