STUDENTS have been enjoying virtual ‘hug-an-alpaca’ wellbeing sessions to provide some fun time out from the challenges of remote learning.

The 30-minute sessions were initially offered to Wildlife and Conservation Management students at SRUC's Riverside campus in Ayr and Barony campus in Dumfries, with the help of new lecturer Lucy Thornton, but are now being opened up to all students and staff.

Ms Thornton, who took up her post at SRUC in December 2020, used to own an alpaca trekking centre in West Yorkshire where people could come and walk one of her herd of 18 alpacas around the fields. When she moved to Scotland, she brought four of the alpacas with her: “The alpacas each have their own unique character. Some are more amenable to human contact – especially when carrots are involved, and some are more aloof, which is probably their more instinctive behaviour. They certainly have the cute factor which makes them easier to forgive when you get caught in the crossfire of a spitting match.

“Students and staff have faced a challenging year with remote learning and teaching, so I offered to run a virtual alpaca wellbeing session, initially aimed at WCM students, to allow them some time out to ask questions and just be involved in something a bit different,” she said. “The alpacas are used to having a camera thrust in their faces as I started to deliver Facebook Live sessions when lockdown commenced, and attendees commented that even though they weren’t physically present with the alpacas, just the sight of them helped them feel calm and relaxed.”

The next event is being held in April as part of Stress Awareness Month.