It’s all about balance

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Image of Denbies Hillside, trees and fields with a setting sun in the background
Denbies Hillside (Rob Hewer)

By Henry Barnard, Lead Ranger, Central Surrey Hills, National Trust

There are occasions in life when you realise you should stop saying “Yes” and start saying “maybe”.

This is one of those occasions.

I am very fortunate. I work for the National Trust, who are a very good employer, and I look after the area where I grew up and have lived my whole life. From the heathlands and woodlands of Leith Hill to the chalk grasslands of Denbies Hillside and the ancient woodlands of Bookham Commons. I have a fantastic job, working with some great people. I also have a wife and two teenaged kids who take up a fair bit of time and always have. As well as a smallholding with cows, goats, pigs, ducks, horses etc. etc. and an acre of walled vegetable garden. My reason for saying this is not to gloat, but rather to give you an idea that I am a tiny bit busy and that flexibility in my job is vital to my work/life balance.

It was because of this that I was so upset to read recently in CJS and on the Facebook page that so many of you had not had this experience. Many parents were saying they could not find part time roles or that they could not find flexible jobs to work round their current life commitments. I answered to say that I had always felt supported in my job and that the Trust had been amazingly accommodating. It was at this point that Amy pounced on me and asked me to write this diatribe1.

Leith Hill Tower stands on a hill with snow on the ground surrounded by bare trees with the sun rising in the background
Leith Hill Tower (John Millar)

I have worked for the National Trust for seven years and before that I did three years with Elmbridge Borough Council. Quick maths tells me that my kids were four and six when I started on my rangering path. As any of you who have children know, they take up a huge amount of time. School runs, plays, parents evenings, swimming clubs, music lessons, sick days, more sick days, yet another sick day…… During the past ten years I have never once felt that I could not put my family first, or that it would harm my career to do so. In fact, since working for the National Trust I have been actively encouraged to take time with my family and prioritise home life over work life.

I now manage a small team of Rangers, I would like to think they would say the same. We have people in our team who work part time, at their own request, and some working full time. We will soon have someone stepping down from full time to go three days a week. Everyone in my team has the flexibility to start and finish when they want as long as they do their contracted hours. As a team we always do everything in our power to accommodate people and the flexible working requirements they may have. It is far more important to me to have the right person, happy in their work and with a work schedule that works for them, than it is to make someone work 9-5.

In our wider NT team here in the Surrey Hills we have every kind of working arrangement you could imagine. We have two people job sharing a full time role to give them time at home as they both have very young children. We have people who work fulltime but work each weekend and take time off in the week. I honestly believe we could consider anything someone suggested and see if it would work. The only complaint I hear from my colleagues is that we have so much holiday and TOIL (time of in lieu) that we don’t know when we will take it all.

Tilllingbourne Valley, landscape scene with rolling hills, trees and fields in front of a rising sun
Tilllingbourne Valley (Rob Hewer)

With all that being said, we are currently really struggling to find and recruit Rangers. Entry level candidates are not hard to find, but experienced Rangers seem few and far between. I do not ask for a hundred and one tickets or that you have the wildlife knowledge of David Attenborough. But still, we can’t recruit. Most recently I have actively pushed that I would be willing and happy to consider flexible working, part time or condensed hours but nobody has contacted me asking for this. So I am left wondering what more I could do?

The issue for me seems to be one of living costs. Since the removal of staff housing across our industry, many people simply cannot afford to stay working in the sector. It seems that many young, keen candidates start a career but soon realise that they need to work extra jobs to make ends meet. If this is the case that would have a huge impact on anyone wanting flexible hours. Raising a family whilst working sixty hours a week in two jobs would be totally unsustainable. I may be wrong, but I wonder if this is another cause of the current losses in experienced managers of the countryside which I am seeing? Flexible working can only go so far when your wages are less than your rent.

If you’d like to get in touch with Henry you can email him here


1 If you want to write an article for CJS about your experiences in the conservation sector then click here to find out more about how to do it.

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Posted On: 20/07/2022

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