A Hereford teenager with autism has found his ‘hoppy’ place as an award-winning rabbit breeder attending animal shows across the UK.

Nathan Mansell regularly takes his beloved pets to some of the largest animal shows in the UK and has even been made an honorary Welsh ‘fancier’ – a breeder of high standards – in light of his favourite past-time. 

The 14-year-old’s new-found status contrasts with his early days as a quiet pupil at Summergil House in Presteigne on the Herefordshire-Powys border, where he is a learner with specialist education provider Orbis Education and Care.

Now Nathan also has plans to qualify as a mechanic, having taken up regular work experience at a nearby garage as a result of the confidence breeding rabbits has given him too.

Nathan’s mum, Sam Mansell, who travels the length and breadth of the country with her son, said: “Nathan got into showing rabbits after a competitor at a local show gave him a rabbit to get him started, which was the best gift he could have received. 

“He really enjoys the social side of the shows, which have given him a confidence that he has taken into other areas of his life and will, all being well, take into the future workplace too. We couldn’t be prouder of him and the progress he is making as a result.”

Nathan’s involvement in the shows he attends now extends to stewarding, displays and award duties, and has seen him claim rosettes at The Royal Welsh Show, Three Counties Show, Swindon Show and the largest small animal show in the country at Doncaster, to name a few.

He is also described by Donna and Malcolm Nicholson, who are club secretaries at the Royal Welsh, Usk and Cardiff shows respectively, as having ‘blossomed’ in the short time he has been showing rabbits, with Donna commenting: “We are extremely proud of Nathan’s achievements so far and know that the whole family will continue in this hobby for many years to come.”

Meanwhile, those working with the teenager at Summergil House have also seen a quiet and introverted student grow into a confident young man since he took up the hobby.

Rachel Hackling, Head of Education at Summergil House, said: “It’s been an absolute delight to watch Nathan’s self-esteem grow and see him develop socially at school, and through his work at the garage, as a result of this passion he has found.

“He is a shining example of how anyone can make remarkable progress regardless of what their challenges may be. We are all super proud to count Nathan as one of our own here at Summergil House and can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.” 

Orbis Education and Care runs 18 schools, day services and residential services for children and adults in Wales and England which support people with complex needs associated with autism. The group currently employs around 800 people.

At Summergil House, this includes 18 acres of nature trails, play areas, a giant polytunnel and a large chicken coop, alongside a sports hall, hydrotherapy pool and shared residential kitchens, dining rooms and lounges.

Orbis is currently recruiting specialist staff to join its schools and care homes around Wales, including Summergil. Visit Orbis’ website for more information about the group and the vacancies: www.orbis-group.co.uk.