Volunteer Driven Success at Rutland Water
Rutland Water is a reservoir nestled in the small county of Rutland in the East Midlands. Built in the 1970s by Anglian Water, there are 26 miles of shoreline, including a peninsula on the western side, and 9 miles of this is managed as a nature reserve in a unique partnership between Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.
Over the years the management of the reserve has grown, with new features being added all the time and we are now at the point where we have 8 lagoons and nearly 30 birdwatching hides, as well as 2 visitor centres and a newly built, HLF funded volunteer training centre. Running a reserve of this size is, as you would imagine, impossible without a vast team of volunteers who now number more than 450. Volunteers here work in a variety of roles including habitat management, osprey monitoring, wildlife recording, visitor experience and much more! We also have the annual Birdfair which could not be run without the near 300 volunteers that join us on the weekend (and for the many weeks of preparation/dismantling!).
Managing such a huge team can be a struggle at times and keeping the volunteers satisfied and happy is vital. It is something we have put many years of work in to, and are forever improving. A couple of years ago we built a WordPress website, specifically for volunteers. This is a private website that doesn’t come up in search engines and requires a login. The website is vital in our day to day running of the volunteer programme. It is full of interesting stories and news updates on the goings-on at the reserve but it is also an important tool when communicating practical information such as rotas, health and safety information and dates. We also have a large createsend email database where we can send emails out to the appropriate volunteers, often linking them back to information on the website. This has been incredibly useful in getting the volunteers adapted to logging in to the website regularly, and we are now at the point where less than 10 volunteers require documents to be posted.
Rewarding our volunteers and recognising their hard work is important and we go out of our way every day to make the reserve a friendly, welcoming place. This can be anything from providing homemade soup after a challenging work party to the constant supply of tea. We try to make it as simple as possible for the volunteers to reach us, either by
telephone and email, or through dedicated ‘drop in’ hours when we can guarantee we will be in the office if they want to pop down in person.
For many years now we have had annual end of season or Christmas parties for each group. For example, when the ospreys migrate for the winter in September, we host a party for the monitoring volunteers who then finish until March. We get a fish and chip van to come to the visitor centre and pay for their meal (£5 a head). We provide entertainment, usually in the form of the staff making fools of themselves, which they thoroughly enjoy! It is a great way to round off
the season and leaves them satisfied and valued during their break.
Throughout the year we provide events specifically for volunteers, a practice that has really taken off since the completion of our Volunteer Training Centre in July 2015. These events include walks, talks, workshops and catch ups, and can often be done for just the cost of the staff member’s time. If there is a budget, however, there’s one thing
I’ve learnt, to provide hot drinks, biscuits and cake wherever possible! It always puts a smile on to everyone’s faces. These type of events not only make the volunteers feel valued but also improve their knowledge, which in the long term can only help us more. We have also found that eventually you end up with some very experienced and enthusiastic
volunteers, who in turn are happy to train others. In 2016 we have 13 events scheduled already that are led by volunteers, for volunteers. A costless, effective approach!
The most expensive event for us throughout the year is the Christmas Lunch at approximately £7 per head. We limit the numbers to how many we can fit seated in our biggest room, about 80, and then give tickets on a first come first served basis which works well. Christmas always proves the perfect opportunity to really lay the thank yous on thick and it can be great fun in the office when it comes time to collate the volunteer photos (take lots!) from throughout the year into a video summary of what they’ve been up to. This is shown at the Christmas party but also shared on social media, with the added benefit of a bit of advertising to help with volunteer recruitment the following year.
In my role at the reserve as the dedicated Volunteer Coordinator I can put a lot of time into our particularly large reward and recognition programme. On a smaller scale some basic events such as a guided walk or a ‘cuppa, cake and catchup’ event are simple and either free or done for the cost of tea and cake, well worth the difference it can make to volunteer attitudes.
Sarah Proud, Volunteer Coordinator, 01572 720049, email@example.com
Visit our website: www.rutlandwater.org.uk/wildlives
View our 2015 volunteer video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoVFqY3pMcs
Contacted January 2017 - believed to be correct