I was unemployed, and I was looking at doing some gardening. I’d bought a van and I wanted a totally different career. I’d spent 37 years at the end of a printing press and I just wanted to do something a bit different, so I first came here to some gardening courses so I could do more than just cut grass and hedges, so I could do pruning and cuttings and stuff like that. That was in June 2018 and when I was doing the summer gardening course, I saw a leaflet for the wildflower ID course that looked really good, so I did that, trees and birds, and then I started doing mid-week volunteering. Going out into community green spaces, learning practical skills. Then they invited me to be a volunteer officer, and now I’m a volunteer officer, but some days I’m a sessional project officer, I get paid for doing sessions which we couldn’t otherwise cover and I’ve also been given some days to deliver some of the tasks in our ‘tidy up at Hollybush’ project as well. I’ve done my first aid, I’ve done leadership, I’ve done me MIDAS bus driver thing. So what started as doing a bit of gardening is totally different now.
One project that I particularly enjoyed doing was at Brunel Primary, because that was the primary school that I went to, albeit a totally different building. It was really nice to go back as an adult and re-landscape what was a hillside at the back of the old school and make it into a woodland area for the kids to enjoy. That was good, there’s been so many though and I think when you start seeing them from start to finish, they really are good. My little team that we had for a year, we always photographed everything we did, because we were so proud of what we’d done. Sometimes when you go and look at what is just a field and then you look at what we’ve done. What it is afterwards, it’s really good, I feel really pleased and enjoy that I’ve made a difference.
The skills you pick up on the way, are great. Since the first day I came here, I’ve done all the practical courses on offer. So I’ve done footpaths, I’ve done dry stone walling, I’ve done fencing, I’ve done green woodworking, and it’s really good picking up the skills. Through my practical task, I’ve also now got a level 2 diploma in work based environmental conservation. I didn’t have to do much for that because I was already doing it really. It was just an idea that I could get a qualification out of it as well. The day after we did our minibus proficiency test, there were three of us at the time, and as volunteers we came in the very next day, and we were sent out, to lead the group which was really good. The trust that they have in us, as volunteers, that we can lead a group, and now I can do sessional, project officer work so it’s really nice. When I’ve had a really good day, and the volunteers have had a really good day. It’s just like, it’s just – leading is good. It’s not at all the sort of thing I expected to be doing, I thought within a year of that, I’d be going round and tidying people’s gardens. I didn’t think I’d be in charge of the health and well-being of up to ten volunteers. Drive the bus, do the tool talk, and be responsible for the first aid you know. It’s a totally different direction that I thought I were going to go, and it’s really good (chuckle).
If I had to leave tomorrow, I’d take away everything I’ve achieved now, that has set me up for the other volunteering that I do, and the people that I’ve met through the practical tasks. I know rangers, I’ve met people from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, I do community gardening at my local community area and I met the community outreach worker there, through Hollybush. I also met people over at Bedford Field which is another Saturday volunteering thing that I do. I’ve found that within this area if you like, , this genre of work, the people are just so nice, everybody’s friendly. People who know me, would say that you wouldn’t (sighs). If you’d have said, when I came here, that a year later I would be leading a group of volunteers, I would have, no way, no way, I wouldn’t have wanted that. But the training and the support that you get here is absolutely brilliant, and they invest the time in you.