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The benefits of volunteering

Logo: Kent Wildlife Trust

By Abbie Johnson, People and Volunteering Manager, Kent Wildlife Trust

Volunteer using a chainsaw to break down a fallen tree
Volunteer at Hothfield on a Sunday task (Ian Rickards)

I am the People and Volunteering Manager for Kent Wildlife Trust. I have been working at the Trust since 2021 but have been working in the charity sector since 2011. Working in various roles across this sector has shown me how vital volunteering is to the not-for-profit sector.

In 2023 the People Team took volunteering, volunteers and everything that comes with it under their wing. The People Team provide all the HR services to the Trust, and it just made sense to align our processes and procedures, where appropriate to staff and volunteers alike.

Here at Kent Wildlife Trust - the county’s leading conservation charity - we have approximately 150 members of staff, all with varying backgrounds and experiences of working in our sector.

I am sure that you are all aware it can be difficult to enter the conservation sector in the UK. One significant challenge is the competitive nature of the industry, job opportunities often attract a large pool of qualified candidates leading to fierce competition.

Team of volunteers posing with scythes in a field
Wednesday team at Oare (Nadia Ward)

Many roles need specific skills, academic qualifications, and a certain level of experience. This can make it difficult for newcomers to break into the field.

Limited funding and resources can also limit the number of positions available, further increasing the competition.

Having ‘experience’ in fieldwork, research, project management can be challenging, more so if you have no network within the conservation sector. This is crucial, as you may face obstacles in building connections with professionals or organisations within the industry. Without this you risk missing information about job openings, mentorship, internships etc.

This is where volunteering or taking an internship can really help.

We have many members of staff at Kent Wildlife Trust who started as volunteers. Some of the roles include Area Managers, Facilities Manager, Project Officers, Landscape Managers and Community Officers as well as Area Wardens and Ecologists. Many of the people who started as volunteers have now been working for the Trust well over 25 years.

Volunteering can take many different forms and we welcome any time that people are able to give, we have something for everyone and by breaking this down into three formats you can get an idea of the time that may be required to volunteer, gain experience, and learn new skills.  

  1. Traineeships/Volunteer Placements - 6–12-month placements that require regular commitment and usually include training bursaries and reasonable expenses.
  2. Volunteer roles that require a fixed commitment, this could be weekly or monthly, roles include livestock checking, practical task days and greeting the public at various reserves.
  3. Micro volunteering, these are short tasks or one-off tasks that have a low commitment such as helping provide information for a new website, data entry, engagement tasks, surveying and much more.
Volunteers sitting around a table setting up equipment
Pine Marten volunteers helping set up equipment (Jonathan Moore)

Having voluntary roles within the Trust that do not always require regular commitment means people can volunteer at weekends or sometimes evenings dependent on the work. This is beneficial particularly amid a cost-of-living crisis where it can be harder to have a decent work-life balance.

There are so many benefits to volunteering particularly long term and many of our volunteers have been volunteering with us for many years.

Here are some of the advantages of long-term volunteering.

  • Personal Growth – Enhance your skills, boost self-confidence, sense of purpose
  • Improved Health and Wellbeing – Improved mental and physical health (even more so by being outside and in the fresh air) stress reducing, sense of fulfilment
  • Expanded Social Network – Meet new diverse groups of people, make friends, build meaningful relationships
  • Enhanced Professional Development – Hands on experience, training e.g. First Aid, and other training associated with the volunteer role
  • Community Engagement – Strengthen your community and make positive change
  • Legacy and Inspiration – Inspire others to get involved, encourage others to contribute to their communities

 

Volunteers kneeling on a grassy hillside searching for caterpillars
Surveying for caterpillars (Ian Rickards)

So when weighing up the pros and cons of volunteering vs the cost of living crisis, there is definitely something to be said for trying to donate some of your time, however small that may be, as you may discover that it improves your mental health, physical health, gives you a ‘way in’ to a career of Conservation if you are just starting out or maybe even helps you completely change your career!

Volunteering is of great importance to Kent Wildlife Trust, we couldn’t manage our reserves or carry out other vital work without the good will and enthusiasm of every single one of our volunteers, the skills and knowledge they bring to the Trust is invaluable and the hours of time they have spent with us spans decades. This is a huge benefit to us, having regular faces turn up repeatedly that we know is a joy, but also knowing when a new volunteer comes along there will be a friendly person waiting to guide them through their first few sessions with lots of tea and cake.

We have a training program available for volunteers at Kent Wildlife Trust to enable them to perform their duties effectively. This includes first aid at work, lone worker training, brushcutter training, chainsaw training, safeguarding training, basic food hygiene and more. This benefits the Trust. It ensures we have a wide range of people trained at all our reserves which helps the staff and helps the volunteer feel valued.

Find out more about volunteering at Kent Wildlife Trust here or email volunteering@kentwildlife.org.uk 
 
First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering on 5 February 2024. Read the full issue here

 

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Posted On: 22/01/2024

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