PHOTOS: Festival of the Unicorn at Sledmere House for Elsie’s Appeal

With a beaming smile and waving to the thousands of people in the crowds, a very excited Elsie saw her dreams come true as she led out a colourful parade of unicorns at the inaugural Festival of the Unicorn.

The magical event, held at Sledmere Estate, attracted more than 4,500 people and was organised by friends and family of 10-year-old Elsie from Driffield who was diagnosed with CLN3 Batten disease in December 2021.

This rare progressive condition results in the gradual loss of sight, the ability to walk, talk and swallow, and the occurrence of complex seizures that are difficult to manage.

Elsie’s parents Phil Smith and Caroline Parrish launched Elsie’s Appeal to help give their daughter as many fun experiences and memories while she can still enjoy them fully and to help meet her needs in the longer term by building a specialist extension at home which will support her care going forwards.

The idea for the Festival of the Unicorn came from Elsie’s obsession with all things magical and her wish to see a real unicorn.

After hearing about Elsie’s wish, Natalie Ibbitson-Garvey from The Tack Shed in Driffield put out an appeal to the equine community for a unicorn to make Elsie’s dream come true and the offers came flooding in and the festival grew from there.

Around 130 unicorns with colourful manes and tails and magnificent horns paraded around the main ring to the delight of the crowds of onlookers.

Elsie said she had an amazing time and thanked everyone for being so kind in making her dream come true.

She said: “It has been really good and I am so excited. I think everyone has been so kind, thank you.”

Elsie’s parents Phil and Caroline, who joined Elsie, her little brother Wilf and Elsie’s assistant Erin Tudor on Sledmere’s horse and cart to lead the procession into the main ring, said they were overwhelmed by the support that everyone has given them.

Caroline said: “It is absolutely amazing, and I still can’t believe that all this is for Elsie and that people have made so much effort for us, we are so grateful.

“It is so difficult to list everyone we want to thank because there are so many and we don’t want to miss anyone out, but we must say a special thank you to Sledmere Estate and the Sykes family for allowing us to have the festival here.

“Thanks to James Fenwick and Michaela Kemp from Sledmere for all their help and support.

“None of this would have been possible without Natalie and the team at the Tack Shed in Driffield. Words cannot express how grateful we are to Natalie and Claire.

“Thanks also to the Driffield & Wolds Weekly and Great Driffield Radio for their support and advertising and to all the volunteers for giving up their time and to the bakers who donated to the cake stall.

“Thank you to the shops and businesses who gave raffle prizes and to our amazing family, friends and partners and finally to everyone who has come along to support this event, we are so grateful.”

The difficult role of judging the unicorns fell to Lady Pamela Swinton and Jeremy Sykes from Sledmere, with the best turned out being awarded to seven-year-old Ella Mann on Alfie.

Lady Pamela said: “I am so pleased this event has been so well-attended and such a huge success.

“It was an honour to be asked to judge and there was such a wonderful entry from large horses to tiny Shetland ponies and everyone made such a huge effort with their decorations.”

Jeremy Sykes added: “On behalf of Sir Tatton, we are delighted that it is has been such a success and I only wish we could have given a prize to everybody because they have all gone to so much trouble.”

As well as the parade, the main ring also saw entertainment from members of Shuffles Dance Class, the Pony Club and the Highmoor Bloodhounds.

The fun event also featured bouncy castles, face painting, hair braiding, games, raffles, tombolas, and an auction.

After such a successful day, Natalie said she would love it to become an annual event.

She said: “After all the difficulties of the last few years, I love that this is an event that so many people have been looking forward to and have enjoyed.

“I would like to thank Sledmere House and their staff who have been phenomenal in helping me to do this.

“Thanks to all the businesses who have donated raffle prizes and trade stands and to all the people of Driffield and the Wolds who have supported this. It’s been amazing.”

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