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CJS Focus on Volunteering February 2024 - the nineteenth year of publishing this special edition.

screen grab of the CJS Focus page - an image of a hand holding a lens

This incredible edition was published on Monday 5 February and as ever is absolutely stuffed with articles, information and adverts. At the time of publishing there were 96 individual voluntary opportunities available to apply for as well as lots of other chances to get involved.

 

Volunteering is always a popular subject for many reasons, in our lead article from Chester Zoo Lindsay Marston, Volunteer Manager explains: “Making a difference is one of the top reasons people give for starting volunteering in their local communities and other organisations. What people might not expect through volunteering is friendship, a sense of community, skills and experience and positive changes to their mental health and wellbeing. For people looking for experience in conservation careers, volunteering in a zoo and aquarium can offer essential training, hands on experience and professional links. It can be a way for people to gain a deeper understanding of environmental challenges and ways they can help care for the natural world in their personal and professional lives.” I’ll bet you’ve never considered volunteering for a zoo or aquarium, Chester Zoo values the contribution volunteers make to their mission of Preventing Extinction, working across many different areas and a wide variety of ways, from explaining and introducing complex concepts to monitoring how visitors interact with displayed information to ensure that conservation messages are shared effectively.

 

Kent Wildlife Trust also discuss some of the many benefits of volunteering. Abbie Johnson, People and Volunteering Manager says: “I am sure that you are all aware it can be difficult to enter the conservation sector,” this is why volunteering can really help, providing opportunities to experience fieldwork, research, project management not to mention helping to build a network within the sector. Don’t forget regular long term occasional volunteering too, Abbie says many of the Trust’s volunteers have been doing so for many years and gain a different range of benefits: from an expanded social network and improved health and wellbeing to providing hands on experience.

 

Sometimes that experience leads to a complete career change and a new sense of purpose. Fiona McGregor, Senior Health Walk Coordinator for Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Countryside Trust flagship programme ‘Walk in the Park’ says: “If you had told me 3 years ago that I would be leading one of Scotland’s best examples of a health walk programme I would never have believed you.” Communications Officer, Marie Harvey adds: “most of our team either once began as volunteers or still volunteer in their spare time - doing the things we love, helping others and giving back to nature.”

 

Not all volunteering leads to such huge personal changes, sometimes the major change is in the local area as seen with burgeoning “Friends of” groups. Dave Morris, Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces explains, this grassroots movement has been steadily growing over the last 20 years and there are now over 7,000 local groups collectively contributing and ‘adding value’ to their sites. His article outlines all that “Friends of” groups can achieve and provides lots of information on how new groups start up and explains how best to keep them going when the initial enthusiasm inevitably wanes.

 

One thing all volunteers, regardless of motivation, appreciate is a word of thanks - although hot baked potatoes, tea and cake go a long way too! In recognition of this CIEEM launched their Volunteer Awards last year (2023) they say: “Given the demands of holding down a full-time job, plus the potential additions of balancing family and social lives, CIEEM volunteers are already going above and beyond simply to meet the expectations we ask of them in their volunteering roles and for that, we simply cannot thank them enough.” Designing a carefully assembled list of criteria, a nomination system and judging process created what they hope will be an annual showcase for the volunteers and the vital work they do for the Institute. The whole process was a joy to be involved with, building awareness of our volunteer roles and hopefully builds on CIEEM’s strength of being an organisation that supports and values its wonderful teams of volunteers”

 

Ecologist, Kate Lewis explains some of the motivation behind volunteering for wildlife surveys on top of a full time job. She says: “the fact of the matter is that I love nature and I'm so grateful that I have the skills and the experience to get to do these surveys.” She finds it helps her mental health too, saying: “working in nature has proven time and time again to pick me up - it's the best therapy I know of” and it always feels good to be helping towards conservation of nature.

 

Ninety nine percent of the time everything goes well, your volunteering is enjoyable and fulfilling and everything runs smoothly but what about when it doesn’t? asks the Association of Volunteer Managers in their article aimed at helping volunteer leaders to avoid the pitfalls; discussing volunteer duty of care and outlining some of the steps that should taken. As well as protecting the volunteer for a happy and healthy team it’s important to consider the volunteer manager.

 

Brian Heppenstall, Countryside, Wildlife and Environment Course Manager at Kingston Maurward College takes this back to the beginning and looks at “Unlocking the Potential: Nurturing Volunteer Management Skills for Conservation Professionals”. He says that one of the units he teaches “Managing Volunteers” gets a mixed response but he feels it’s incumbent on us to ensure that countryside professionals are equipped with the skills to manage our vital volunteer workforce. Having done his research from CJS editions over the past 18 months he’s found that almost 70% of entry-level roles asks for communication skills which are vital for managing all staff but especially volunteers. He says: “If we train early year conservationists to effectively recruit, manage, develop and retain volunteers, then those skills can have a wider impact. If someone can be trained/supported to be an effective volunteer manager, then we may have also helped to develop an effective manager.”

 

If you’d like to read more or if we’ve whetted your appetite to join in then click through to see CJS Focus in full.

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