Volunteers’ Week – sharing stories
By Earth Trust and volunteer Nikki Bailey
Sadly we can’t be with our volunteers to celebrate Volunteers’ Week in person this year, but we want to say a huge thank you to them for their continued support. Without volunteers we simply couldn’t achieve our mission to give people access to natural green spaces and together understand what we can do to care for the planet.
In fact, last year alone volunteers donated an amazing 12,174 hours doing everything from cataloguing archaeological finds and supporting on fundraising bids, to clearing woodland and laying hedges.
Earlier this year Nikki, who supports the Earth Trust Education Team, shared her story with other volunteers. To mark Volunteers’ Week we asked if we can share her inspiring story again here for more people to read – we hope you enjoy it.
I have worked in the environmental sector for more than 15 years. I started as a field ecologist catching reptiles and amphibians for relocation, and then gradually spent more time in an office environment working with local authorities and then businesses to improve resource efficiency and make more sustainable products. Although this felt like valuable work, I missed my direct link to the outdoors.
Why did I start volunteering with Earth Trust?
I wanted to reconnect to nature and to the earth in a personal and direct way. I also recognised that people only value the environment and nature if they have a relationship with it and if they are able to access the countryside. Children today are said to spend only half as much time outdoors as their parents, and so I felt it was vitally important to help connect young people in particular to the countryside.
My volunteer role
I started volunteering with the education team at Earth Trust in 2019 helping one morning a week on the Countryside Skills programme. The course teaches countryside skills and provides an outdoor experience for students that may struggle in more traditional classroom environments.
My role involves helping to set up the activity for the session, which can be anything from preparing to coppice willow, build a bat box, or simply taking a walk outside in the fresh air and spotting signs of each season. Once the task is set up, I welcome the students. They are 14-16 years old and all have learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. I usually support one or two students, providing support and motivating them to undertake the task – and I really enjoy doing it.
What do I get out of it?
I love seeing the students grow and develop from their outdoor experiences – sometimes that is as simple as seeing their joy as they splash around in muddy puddles or reach the top of the clumps as their fitness improves. These are often children that have been told by society that they need to modify or restrict their behaviour and it is inspiring to see them flourish as they experience the freedom of the outdoors. They are trusted to use tools, such as saws and drills. The real impact of the programme hit me powerfully when we were asked to visit their school to run a session there, and I saw how different their behaviour needed to be in an indoor classroom setting. There is a saying about children being ‘school ready’ in terms of their emotional and social skills, and what I love about working with students outside is that the forest or the field is always ready for them – just as they are.
It is great to be involved with a programme that provides students with more outdoor time and connects them to nature – and I’ve learnt so much from them too.