I am the proud owner of a badge that says ‘Ruth – Volunteer Leader’. I wear this every Wednesday – when lectures don’t get in the way – and spend that day in the woods and grounds of TCV Skelton Grange.
It’s a fairly awesome day, to be honest. I arrive at 9am, having cycled for about 40 minutes along the canal. The first order of business at Skelton is always a cup of tea, accompanied by a short catch up with the other volunteers and staff at the centre. Once the mugs are empty, we start setting up for the day.
Wednesdays are education days, so the activities run from around 11 to 2. These education days vary according to the season and the needs of the school, but all of them are essentially about familiarising the children with being outdoors and piquing their curiosity about the natural world.
The activities we ran before the university’s Christmas break were centred around autumn: the changes in the trees, hibernation and migration, and the challenges animals face in the lead up to winter. My favourite part is probably looking under the logs for minibeasts, both because I love the way things scuttle back into the damp darkness, and also seeing the different children’s reactions. Some of the children are the very personification of enthusiasm, whereas others think that all things that are crawly are very creepy – to be avoided at all costs!
Getting into volunteering
I saw this role advertised in the School of Earth and Environment employability bulletin in spring 2017, and had a very informal interview for it. I knew from the off that I was keen to do the education days, as I had previous experience working in a children’s nursery and I love sharing my geeky love of nature with others. I think it definitely helped having previous experience with children, but I don’t think a lack of experience would be a serious hindrance for anyone interested. From what I can tell, the key things for volunteering at Skelton are genuine enthusiasm, and a love of nature. Education days run Tuesday to Thursday, but there are also outdoor conservation activities that run on Mondays and Fridays, which focus on developing skills.
For me, this role was about getting out of the built-up and busy city environment, and into a soothing and inspiring natural context. I have no plans to go into outdoor education or work with children, but even so, the experience has given me some very valuable examples to use in my CV and in interviews. I have developed key skills such as communication, creativity, taking the initiative, leadership and teamwork during my time with Skelton.
However, I think the most important thing I have gained is a sense of being profoundly accepted and welcome. I know it’s maybe cheesy to say, but the community at Skelton really does feel like a family; they accept you for all your quirks and weirdness and they love you all the same. I don’t think I’ve ever felt at home so quickly with people I didn’t know.