Image: CV Flying Squad with Rich Whiting (Practical Projects Officer)
Keith Tomkins, a My Community Champion in North Staffordshire who works at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust discusses his experience of the invaluable contributions volunteers make to their area. Plus, we hear from volunteers atChurnet Valley on the benefits of becoming a volunteer – learning skills, meeting others, and improving their local area.
I am passionate about the wildlife and countryside on our doorstep. While I recognise that iconic and important habitats, such as the rainforests and coral reefs, across the world are disappearing I have watched our own (UK) habitats being degraded, our wildlife struggle and fail to thrive and our landscapes losing their beauty and individuality. With a background in enforcement and a degree in environmental science I have found that “I can best do my bit” more by supporting others – by doing the less sexy background work.
The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust is the perfect place for me to do this; Wildlife Trusts are leading on the joined up thinking around Living Landscapes. People working together to protect, enhance and celebrate their local natural and build heritage on a wide scale.
I’m fortunate enough to be coordinating one of these Landscape Scale Projects in the beautiful and little-known valley south of the Peak District, Churnet Valley. Currently, the project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a wide number of organisations are all pulling in the same direction and cooperating in order to keep what we have special. Because this is a ‘Partnership’ the community who live and work here can become involved in a wide range of activities, events and opportunities, one of which is the Churnet Valley Flying Squad.
With the support of the Wildlife Trust and a dedicated Project Officer the Churnet Valley Flying Squad is a group of volunteers who undertake a wide range of support work – one day they’ll be repairing the Staffordshire Way Long Distance path through National Trust land, the next they’ll be rebuilding the retaining wall of an industrial revolution tramway. Volunteering for the Flying Squad means you get to the strangest places in the valley but you are always helping a good cause. Many of the Flying Squad have become firm supporters of one or more partners and now volunteer with them directly as well, while two have gone on to undertake traineeships with the Wildlife Trust, one of whom now works for Severn Trent Water (one of our partners) as a Ranger.
Volunteers are the backbone of organisations such as the Wildlife Trust, they are increasingly becoming the mainstay of services which were once the realm of the public sector. With the right support and respect the old saying “One volunteer is worth ten pressed men.” Is not only true but is increasingly becoming recognised and relied upon.
In the last three years we have recorded in excess of £150,000 of Churnet Valley Valley Flying Squad volunteer time against funded projects, and I suspect we could match that in unrecorded volunteer time.
So here is just a snippet from the chaps out there:
Peter & Pat from the Churnet Valley Flying Squad
“I started volunteering with the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership (CVLLP) just over 2 years ago, in this short time I have learnt how to hedge lay, build steps, repair and install stock fencing, do dry stone walling off different styles from start to Finnish, lay paths and boardwalks, we just recently installed a water gate in Coombes Brook, that was so much fun and a great learning curb for all involved. As a group we have been all over the Churnet Valley from east to west, we have just been involved in some dry stone walling on the plate way at Froghall Wharf, it is steeped in history and such an amazing place. If I didn’t do the volunteering I would not have known half the places we have been to existed, the group of volunteers I work with range in age from teenagers to old crocks like me, I have never met such a bunch of like-minded, friendly people, and the fresh air and exercise is just what the doctor ordered.”
“I never imagined when I started to volunteer with CVLLP that I would learn to lay hedges, re-build dry stone walls or help to build a new path around Tittesworth, mow meadows and plant trees. Working alongside Staffordshire Wildlife staff, I have learnt about the industrial heritage of the area and the wonderful flora and fauna. Each new project takes us to a new location – hidden gems for those with local knowledge. Such fun and laughter as I work as part of the team and a great sense of achievement and pride when we have finished a job.”
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