'Paca pop-ins' bringing fun to Zoom calls
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Endless video calls may have become an inescapable part of our lives - but one Suffolk company is injecting a little more fun into them, from an unusual source.
Hilly Ridge Alpacas usually offers members of the public the chance to go walking with their animals at its farm in Wattisham.
Unfortunately, since lockdown, the farm has had to shut its doors - preventing the alpacas from welcoming their usual guests.
Now, however they are breaking into the boardroom to join companies' briefings as surprise Zoom meeting guests.
"We are having to think outside the box," said Jo Bridge, from Hilly Ridge.
"I call them 'Paca Pop-Ins'."
Companies pay for Ms Ridge and her alpacas to join their meetings to help raise morale in an otherwise difficult time.
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One of the key elements of the meeting is surprise.
Ms Bridge always joins the meeting with her camera turned off and only once the employees have all joined does she turn the camera on to reveal the alpacas to the astonished team.
"We are about that feel good factor," said Ms Bridge.
"They come to the Zoom and leave smiling.
"It lifts the mood up."
The alpacas stay on the video, via selfie stick, to the businesses for around 10 to 15 minutes, with staff able to ask Ms Bridge questions about their unusual meeting guests.
The special video calls were Ms Bridge's idea to help the business bring in money during lockdown.
"The farm is closed and we still have overheads," said Ms Bridge.
"We wanted to bring the alpacas to the people."
It's not the first time that the alpacas have been put to use to help keep up morale.
In previous years, the alpacas have gone out to visit residents in care homes.
More recently, they have been appearing on video calls to local primary school students, who are learning from home.
Ms Bridge said that all the visits were always worth it "if you can make someone smile".
"It's lovely the impact it has on people," said Ms Bridge.
Visits from the alpacas to business Zoom calls cost £50.
More information can be found on the farm's website.