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Volunteer Officer Kathryn Newton explains what it’s like volunteering at Skelton Grange.
Skelton Grange Environment Centre is recruiting another batch of Volunteer Officers, thanks to funding from the Big Lottery and National Grid. Run by the charity The Conservation Volunteers, access2nature is a five year project working to improve the life prospects and wellbeing of people in Leeds, by providing a range of social, learning and volunteering opportunities in the natural environment.
We asked one of our current Volunteer Officers to explain a little further as to what it’s like volunteering at Skelton Grange…
I am a Volunteer Officer at Skelton Grange Environment Centre and I have been asked to put together some of my thoughts, feelings and experiences about the first four months of my time with TCV.
First of all some background information about me. I am passionate about the natural world, nature conservation and the environment. I particularly love birds and then moths, wild flowers, fungi and amphibians are also of great interest to me. I do have other volunteer experience with environment and nature conservation organisations, but this is the first time that my role as a volunteer has focused on other people and their connections with the environment.
For example, in a previous role my sole company was a pair of binoculars and I would happily sit in a field somewhere monitoring what a particular species of bird (Lapwing) was doing at breeding time and I would be there to protect them from predators. I loved those volunteer roles with birds and I had a great time doing them, but the role as a TCV VO is proving to be very different and as equally enjoyable, if not more so. It would appear that I actually enjoy being around people and working in a team rather than alone, and it is being at Skelton Grange that is helping me to admit this to myself.
Very recently I was suffering from Anxiety and Depression and I was in quite a bad place where I felt as though there was nothing but dead ends around me and no place to manoeuvre. I also found it hard to believe in my ability to connect with other people, so becoming a VO at Skelton was always going to be a big deal for me. Looking back to February though, I am so pleased I took the plunge and I am now feeling very positive. The team of staff and volunteers at Skelton are so enthusiastic, positive, knowledgeable and most importantly welcoming that I have felt as though I belonged there from my very first day and I think that is a very special feeling indeed.
So what is it that I have actually been doing as a VO, I hear you ask? Well, the answer to that is lots of things, and with lots of variation. As I said above, this role definitely involves other people and their connections to their natural environment, and in no small part we focus a lot on local children. During school term time the centre regularly receives one school class of thirty children a day from across Leeds and the main objective is to give them a wonderful experience outdoors. My part in this initially was to help one of the staff or more experienced VOs deliver a day of education and fun with activities such as pond dipping, minibeast hunting and talk of the the environment. In the beginning I shadowed these sessions but after building my confidence I have recently started to lead some activities myself, and one of my favourite things to do is taking the children pond dipping. Admittedly this has been quite a nerve racking experience, but all the staff and other volunteers offer unlimited support and guidance whenever you need it so its also proving to be very rewarding and I would highly recommend getting involved and giving it a go.
On the days when I have not been teaching, I have been getting stuck in with site days Tuesday to Thursday and with Green Team which is held at the centre every Friday when members of the community can come along and be involved in site work too. These days are also very enjoyable and the work programme is varied. Recently we have been altering our veg patch area so that it is more space efficient, and in doing this the extra space now incorporates another child friendly area with a den and sensory barefoot walk, which we have also put together on site days. This work is ongoing but it is looking very impressive and is nearly finished and ready for use. Our other recent projects have been replacing the decking and rail outside one of the building's access doors, planting a meadow, refurbishing our compost making area, hedge laying and making alterations to the herb garden.
Furthermore, there has been the chance to be involved with helping at events and work days involving Marks and Spencer's, RBS, National Grid and Skelton's nearest TCV centre, Hollybush. These days are always invaluable for building your confidence if working in community based employment is what you are aiming for. Also, it’s always interesting to talk to a wide range of people because there is a never ending number of views and attitudes about what community involvement and the environment mean to people. Also, in connection with the site team at Skelton there are some opportunities to do wildlife monitoring and our recent focus has been amphibian surveys which I have thoroughly enjoyed doing and am pleased to report that we have seen our three focus species, Common Frogs, Toads and Common Newts.
As I am sure you realise by now, I could go on in detail about other things too but I feel that I may have chewed off your ear for far too long. So briefly I will just add that I have also received some excellent training at Skelton in safeguarding, emergency first aid, equality and diversity and day leadership to name a few. Plus, I have new skills in whittling, knot tying, dead hedging, hedge laying and den building, which are all things I'd never done before. If my experiences at Skelton sound like something you'd like to try I cannot recommend completing that application form enough. I have not looked back. Come and join us and I assure you that you won't regret it.
Kathryn Newton – Volunteer Officer at TCV Skelton Grange Environment Centre
If you would like to become a Volunteer Officer here at Skelton Grange then visit our website for an application form and send it back to us before the closing date of 10am on Wednesday 1st June 2016. Interviews are scheduled for the Monday 6th June, and the start date will be as soon as possible following this.