Long term volunteering - experiences from Kent Wildlife Trust

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Logo: Kent Wildlife Trust

My experience as a long-term volunteer

Making leaf art for a Nature Tots video (Kent Wildlife Trust)
Making leaf art for a Nature Tots video (Kent Wildlife Trust)

My name is Beth Randall and I am an Education and Engagement Volunteer Trainee with Kent Wildlife Trust. I have been volunteering in this role since March last year.

I graduated from the University of Leicester in 2019 with an BSc in Biological Sciences (Zoology). When I left university, I knew I wanted to work in the conservation sector but was unsure which area I wanted to specialise in. Experience in the sector is a highly sought-after aspect of many job applications, and I knew I had to build on the experience I already had. I had previously volunteered in other roles, although these have been shorter term placements.

As a volunteer trainee I work 3 days per week, however this can vary depending on seasonal projects and my availability. There is also a good amount of flexibility being a volunteer which has enabled me to continue with part time paid work. Without flexibility being a volunteer would be difficult to continue long term from a financial point of view. Other benefits offered by organisations to support volunteers are attractive when considering long term volunteering, such as a training budget and expenses reimbursement which I have received from this current volunteering post.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proved a challenge this year, new ways of engaging people and providing nature-based education have had to be created. I have produced an educational video aimed at pre-school children who would usually attend our Nature Tots sessions. This was created to encourage them and their families to enjoy nature even in lockdown and keep this group engaged with the Trust. I have also helped speakers deliver Covid secure study days, which was also an opportunity for me to learn from these experts alongside the study day participants.

Pinecone bird feeders made in one of the forest school sessions (Kent Wildlife Trust)
Pinecone bird feeders made in one of the forest school sessions (Kent Wildlife Trust)

During periods when restrictions were eased last year, I was able to assist in the delivery of Forest School sessions to KS1 children. Through this I was given the opportunity to design and lead my own activity with the groups, which has allowed me to gain valuable experience in the teaching side of the conservation sector. I have really enjoyed the teaching aspect of this role and believe the long-term volunteering has allowed me to discover what I enjoy most. In addition, I have assisted with the delivery of Nature Tots and evening and weekend courses for adults across a variety of different subjects. I have also experienced some of the practical work involved in the upkeep of the reserves, working with a team of volunteer gardeners to maintain and manage the reserve.

Working alongside other volunteers has been a very sociable experience and there is a real team spirit amongst like-minded people who have chosen to give up their time to volunteer on projects. One of the highlights for me has been meeting a wide range of people of varying ages and backgrounds and sharing their enthusiasm for the natural world. I believe that volunteering can be beneficial in improving both mental and physical health, creating new friendships and reducing loneliness.

For me personally the benefits of volunteering have been to gain experience whilst contributing to the environment in an area I feel passionate about. I have been very fortunate to have been well supported in this role and feel that my contribution is both acknowledged and appreciated. This has motivated me to continue in this volunteer role.

A Change of Direction

Nikki collecting natural objects (Kent Wildlife Trust)
Collecting natural objects (Kent Wildlife Trust)

By Nikki Creswell

I have always found that connecting with the natural world has been a great way to manage my own wellbeing. For the last 12 years I have had a career within the social care field and I have used my experience with connecting with nature to support some of my clients. I saw huge benefits to the people I was working with, while at the same time I was learning more about how nature is in crisis. I felt drawn toward a career change where I could promote the importance of the symbiotic relationship between people and nature. I found that jobs are very competitive within the conservation field and although I had many transferable skills I was lacking experience and training.

I undertook various conservation volunteering opportunities to enhance my CV and whilst these were very valuable and enjoyable they lacked the ability to fully immerse myself in the experience and work toward progressing my career. Therefore I decided to look into longer term volunteering as a way to gain regular experience, knowledge and connections within an organisation, and to help me work out whether this would be the right career for me.

Initially this was daunting, I had a mortgage and the security of a full time job and it was a big commitment to take on long term volunteering. I reviewed my outgoings to ensure I was in a secure financial situation to undertake this commitment. I explored options within my work and found I was able to reduce my hours on a temporary basis to take up more volunteering.

Cooking fruit bread at nature tots (Kent Wildlife Trust)
Cooking fruit bread at nature tots (Kent Wildlife Trust)

I applied for a range of long term volunteering and training opportunities. I found that many places offered accommodation, training budgets or support with travel. I applied for a trainee role at Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) as it is an organisation that I felt held the same values as me around educating people for their own wellbeing, while at the same time educating and engaging the public in the need to protect our environment.

In March 2020 I was successful in securing a role at KWT as an Education and Engagement Volunteering Trainee working flexibly 3 days a week. Throughout this experience I have been able to get to know the organisation and learn about how different teams work together. I have gained hands on experience working with the public and have been able to access training for my own development. One of the experiences I have enjoyed the most is being actively involved with planning and delivering a Nature Tots group. This has given me the chance to learn about the process of setting up education sessions, being creative with putting together resources and having connections with likeminded people who have been able to share their journey of working in this field with me.

I have felt very much part of the team, my ideas have been listened to and considered and I have been able to build trust and relationships with team members. For the organisation I feel they have benefited from having regular volunteers with different skills sets and experiences that they can rely on to support sessions. This experience has helped build my confidence and enhance my skills and knowledge as well as confirming that this is the career path I want to progress with. As a trainee I have also been able to access internal jobs which has meant that I have recently been successful in securing part time employment with KWT whist continuing volunteering.

For anyone considering a change of career and moving into the conservation sector I would highly recommend considering long term volunteering.

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First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces with Parks Community UK on 22 February 2021. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 12/02/2021

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