For my first visit of 2017 I called in to the office The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) where Rosie and Jan shared with me their experiences of volunteering.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Rosie – I’ve been volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) since October (2016) after finding out online that they were looking for a Green Action Trainee. I graduated in July and was not sure exactly what I wanted to do next. I hoped that this would give me a bit of experience in managing volunteers and environmental projects…. My interest is in social change and the environment, so I’d like to do something to do with that. Teaching’s another option, and I’ve been doing some schools based stuff through TCV, which is good experience.
Jan – I used to volunteer for BTCV which became TCV a long time ago, so knew about it before I started to do more volunteering. I left a very sedentary job and needed to do something that doesn’t involve sitting in an office or sitting down for long periods.
Yeah, reasons for doing it; well, it has some social value compared to a lot of work I’ve done in the past. I used to work in IT, and it’s just a matter of application without any consideration for what it is you’re doing, whether it has any real value, which at best is kind of neutral in my experience.
This is the kind of thing maybe I’d like to do, but it seems very difficult to find work in this field. TCV are providing me with training; I’ve done various kinds of power tools, pesticide sprays (that I’d rather not do on a job) brush cutter stuff and training online as well.
What does the volunteering involve?
Rosie – There’s a variety of work, one regular thing I do is go out with the Biodiversity Action Team on a Thursday, we go to various locations in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and partner with organisations that are trying to improve the quality of a green space…. we provide the manpower for the work. So for instance, today we were at an allotment in Wantage clearing litter out of bushes and preparing to then lay a hedge, this should improve the quality of the allotments for their users. Furthermore, hedgerows are good for promoting biodiversity. Can you think of examples of other stuff we’ve done Jan?
Jan – Some things are suspended at the moment but on Tuesdays we look after locks along the canal, renovation, painting and DIY. Then there is the community garden kind of stuff, building raised beds, that kind of thing.
Rosie – Yeah. TCV have just started up a Green Gym in Reading, which is something I am very interested in. This runs only once a month at the moment, it’s shorter than the weekday sessions, and you do a warm-up beforehand and then a similar thing to the Biodiversity Action Team. It’s marketed as a form of exercise class.
Jan – I used to look after the tools… I learned how to sharpen tools but the problem is a lot of tools are now just throwaway things and so trying to renovate them is a bit of a killer. Back to the conservation’ we still do traditional things, hedge laying, coppicing, there’s some tree felling… it’s maintenance of habitat, like heathland, you cut back trees on heathland, because you want to keep the heathland there.
Rosie – I do some office work as well, which has involved a variety of tasks. I wrote a leaflet for our Green Gym and have done some advertising for it. Additionally I have researched for projects and have done a lot of data entry.
What difference do you feel your volunteering is making?
Rosie – I think that some of the work we do really improves the aesthetic of community greenspaces, which increases the likelihood of people going out to enjoy them. For instance last week we went to Dingley Dell, a piece of woodland near the Amersham Road Community Centre. We cleared out all the litter and made a pathway and hedge. You could really see the difference.
“It’s now a nice area to go, opposed to a bit of dodgy looking woodland, there are now families coming out to enjoy it.”
Also for the other volunteers, everyone who came along seemed to really enjoy it, and it gave them a sense of achievement, it was nice to facilitate that.
Jan – So alongside the conservation work I mentioned there is this regeneration of a site, which is good because it allows people to go in there and use it.
“You get the satisfaction of seeing you’ve done some work with other people too, so at best it’s a really cool thing.”
What do you get out of it?
Rosie – I get a lot of satisfaction from the work I do with TCV. It is nice to see the progress and the difference you’re making, and to get out and do something different. It is also good work experience and is helping me to recognise what I want and don’t want to do. I have also made useful contacts through this, some of which have offered me paid work.
Jan- Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be sitting around at home anyway. You need a break in what you do, you need to get out and meet other people too. I’m not a particularly sociable person, but when you’re working with others you have a different kind of interaction. It’s an opportunity to get out and work alongside other people and see you have some ability. It can lead to other work; TCV are willing to put in some time and effort to train volunteers if you’re there for a while.
The immediate result thing is good, so in the space of a day, depending on what kind of work you do, you can see you’ve achieved quite a lot… There’s skill to hard work, a lot of it’s lost so people don’t do much of it any more. It’s hard to do it without any kind of skill without killing yourself.
Rosie – That is a good point.
I’ve learnt quite a lot of practical skills through this voluntary role. For instance, before this I had no idea how to use an electric screwdriver or lay a hedge. These are really great skills to learn, even if you don’t use them again …
“Part of the reason I chose this kind of volunteering is that although I am very well qualified academically, I have few practical skills. TCV is providing opportunities for me to learn new practical skills which will diversify my skill set.”
What would you say to someone who was thinking about becoming a volunteer?
Rosie – I’d say there’s loads of different opportunities to look into, I’m sure everyone could find something to suit them, and it’s really nice to engage with people from different walks of life and make a difference… it’s nice to make a difference.
Jan – I’d encourage them to speak to someone rather than just looking on the net, because that’s not enough unless they’re really set on doing certain kind of thing… There will be a variety of different opportunities according to their needs and what they are looking for. I would also say they should just jump in & try things out as there is nothing to lose – you are not under the same obligations to an employer as a volunteer: give it a go & see. If you don’t like it you can always try something else.
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