Volunteering at the Wymondley Wood Scout and Guide Centre

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Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of free time, so when I wanted to volunteer I looked around for something without a regular time commitment, and being a warden at Wymondley Wood Scout and Guide Centre in Letchworth was something I could do.  I only have to be available for 2 to 3 weeks a year and I get to choose the dates when the rotas are organised early in January.  It also means that I have some contact with the Scouting and Guiding movements which I miss after all my years as a Guide leader.

Wymondley Wood is a residential centre used primarily by Scouts and Guides.  It has been open since May 2003 and is just celebrating its 10th birthday.  It is located between Willian and Great Wymondley with a building that can sleep forty two in full size bunks and sits within four acres of camp site with access to an adjacent 20-acre conservation area with mature woods, stream, pond and grassland.

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A warden is responsible for making sure the Centre and grounds are well cared for, and treated respectfully by its users. There is also a team of committed volunteers behind the scenes making sure that the rooms are clean and repairs are undertaken promptly.   There is a huge sense of pride in keeping the building and grounds as well maintained as possible.

I look forward to my wardening weeks with both pleasure and trepidation.  It is a good opportunity to meet with other Guiders and Scouters from all over the country, as the Centre is very popular. Last year for example we had about 5000 visitors!

Generally things run smoothly.  I enjoy calling in and checking the building and site, either on my way to or from work.  The winter months are more challenging when it’s dark and cold outside but in the summer it is a wonderfully relaxing thing to do.  The outside space is very attractive with a large landscaped field, hedges and young trees, and I often just stroll around enjoying the peace and quiet.

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With the really good bits come the challenges, which can be from making sure parents’ and leaders’ cars do not damage the grassy areas in the wet weather, to washing and changing sheets on 40 bunk beds with two days notice in the middle of winter!  I am also now far more familiar with the workings of Lincat boilers and industrial cookers which are the things that most users appear to struggle with!

My week always seems to pass by swiftly; I drop off the keys to the next warden and check the next date on the calendar.  I am both pleased and relieved when another week has passed without incident and look forward to the next.

A post by Jacquie, NHCVS Director

Volunteering Abroad

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Volunteeering overseas or ‘Voluntourism’ as it is often called can be a wonderful and rewarding way to get to know a country and have a truly unique expereince. My boyfriend Dave and I have been travelling in South America for six months and have spent about half of this time involved in various volunteer work. I could write for pages and pages about all of the different and wonderful projects we have been involved with, but it is probably for the best if I just talk about a few!

Volunteering with children or animals is perhaps the first thing that people think of when they consider volunteering and sure enough our first project was Foundacion De Arte Del Mundo (Foundation of world arts), a children’s library and arts project in the beautiful town of Baños in Ecuador. La Bib, as the kids call it, is a fantastic place to be a volunteer. There is a paid coordinator to keep things in order, but all activities are dreamt up, planned and delivered by a constantly changing group of volunteers, almost exclusively on trips much like mine. La Bib isn’t a project aimed at ‘children in need’ but offers a fun and constructive way for children to spend the afternoon; school finishes at 1pm here and without the Bib the childrenwould be on the street or following their parents around at work. The town of Baños is stunning and as well as enjoying the work we had a wonderful time swimming in thermal springs, trekking and dancing salsa into the night. All of the volunteers live together and we built some strong friendships.

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When you are travelling there is no better time to try something new. This is why we ended up at two Harre Krishna communities, one in Peru and one in Ecuador. My favourite of the two was Wisdom Forrest, a small community nestled in the Ecuadorian rainforest. At this project everyone works, be it in the kitchen preparing the fabulous vegetarian feasts for the other volunteers, in the gardens, or looking after the house. Neither Dave nor I are religious and this was in no way forced upon us, although we did enjoy yoga classes outdoors at sunrise. The work here was hard in the heat of the rainforest and being besieged by all manner of biting insects, but it was supremely rewarding. The afternoons are your own to trek in the rainforest, go monkey spotting or just lounge in a hammock. In this small friendly community we really did feel like family.

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A popular way that travellers the world over find volunteer work is through the website WWOOF. This website matches small organic farms with volunteers or ‘WWOOFers’. WWOOFers help at the farms in return for food and board. This is not volunteering in the truest sense of the word, but none the less it is still a great way to get involved in the local community and to give your wallet a rest! We helped at a tiny organic farm in the south of Bolivia, not for profit, just a guy who likes to eat organic and meet travellers. The work was not hard, just weeding and harvesting when needed, so the rest of the time was ours to explore the Bolivian countryside and eat some of the best food we have ever eaten in the wealthy little town in the heart of wine country. Our host introduced us to his freinds and before long we felt like part of the furnture in the town.

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These are just a few diverse examples of the hundreds of great projects in South America. We also worked with street children, rescued animals and at a Youth Hostel bar when money was looking especially tight. We found our projects online, though our Quito Spanish School, through word of mouth and from adverts pinned to noticeboards. People know that there is good money to be made from well meaning travellers, so always try to speak to people that have already been to the project, especially when there is a volunteering fee. This fee helps organisations to deliver a worth while volunteering programme and provideds much needed funding, but needless to say some people take advantage of volunteers for personal gain. Other organisations do not charge a fee to volunteer, but will ask that you ‘live in’ and charge an accomodation fee (usually less than a hostel). Other organisations ask for nothing.

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Dave and I are both life long volunteers and it was never a question if we would volunteer on our travels. We have done some amazing things on this marvellous continent, and our volunteering experiences are among the highlights. It has helped us to improve our Spanish immensly and we have made friends of locals, when it is all too easy to spend all your time with other travellers on the road. There is somehing out there for everyone so if you are thinking of taking a gap year or a work break make sure you take volunteering into consideration!

A post by Dani, Former Time Bank Project Coordinator

Volunteering and why I drive for the NHCVS Transport Scheme

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This weekend I pass another milestone in my working life when I cross over the pension line.

Yes I have now turned from 64 years of age to 65 years, which means that all that hardship of getting up early and making the morning tea is over, and instead I’ll be lying in bed until the late hours in winter, drinking tea all day, playing golf on sunny days, etc….well so they say.

Sadly my own Engineering Consultancy demised in mid 2012 as the Credit Crunch and financial austerity bit deep and the Government started to tighten its own budgetary belt to meet the hard times ahead. Up until this time I had worked on some fantastic projects all over the world and the UK, especially in Hertfordshire, where I worked on many roads and drainage schemes. I also had occasion to work on the Wembley site as well as the Olympics in Stratford.

This all culminated with some humanitarian projects in Mozambique with Oxfam and the UNWFP restoring roads after flood damage of  2000. I also worked in South Sudan with the United Nations World Food Programme where I reconstructed most of the roads from Uganda and Kenya to the old battle-scarred country, after a civil war which lasted for 25 years. Some 4 million landmines and battle ordinance were left lying all over my roads.

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I also fixed a few hundred bridges and culverts and repaired and extended some major runways. Those days have all gone now though and when I faced redundancy in 2012 it came as a great shock. I never thought that it was going to happen to me to be honest, but this has been a world wide event that has floored most countries and left people who have not been as secure as I was, in a far worse position than me. Even my overseas contacts had no work for me, so I couldnt do anything. I could mope around or maybe just go to the biggest employer in the UK and in the World… the N.H.S. and ask them for a job…any job.

I went to my local hospital in Stevenage and spoke to the volunteer team who asked me to consider a flyer, which offered various volunteering situations in the hospital. I chose to do driving because I could do so, and also because I have a good heater in my car and I would be very cosy in winter not standing in the bitter cold, which was one of the hardships that I did experience with my old job!

I filled in the forms and waited for the CRB results to come back a few weeks later. I was accepted and asked to go to have my eyes checked out which I passed once more. I was really relieved initially that at least someone wanted me…rejection is a hard thing sometimes, so as soon as I could I started.

The main thing I had to get used to was that it wasn’t like a normal full time job…. I had thought that I would be engaged in the transport operation full time, working say 8 to 10 hours a day every day and asking for some time over the weekend to see my family. But it is much more flexible than that…there are days when I have 4 or 5 transports to do in one day, but others when I have none at all. There is an upside to this of course…you can play golf or do what I did and get going with your genealogy which has taken years to complete.

Still wanting to keep busy though, I met up with Sue Moss who looks after the drivers of the NHCVS Community Transport Scheme, which helps all kinds of individuals who need help getting to various places, and she was delighted that I could help as they nearly always have a shortage of drivers.

Driving people to the various places really is quite interesting although it takes a few months to grasp…having a Satnav helps a lot though. On most occasions the person you are driving will only keep you at the most for an hour or less, but sometimes their appointment lasts longer than they thought, but I usually take a few puzzles with me and relax whilst I wait.

The past few years volunteering have been full of incident and interest. Meeting people and helping get them to their appointments is an extension of my humanitarian interests that I had whilst working with the UN not so long ago. I have met lots of other voluteers during this time and most of these people are caring considerate people who really want to help. Interfacing with the public has taken me away from my usual technical and analytical work…but gives me a focus that people and their needs are a challenge sometimes, but need to be adressed…and lots of people have needs especially now with the economic crisis as it is.

It’s a challenge to make a difference in your life…but it is an even bigger one to make a difference to the public’s experience in life. I saw  the volunteers at the Olympics, and how happy they were to please the public. It cost them lots of effort but they made a great show, and they enjoyed it…I think the same happens with my volunteering at the NHCVS.

I feel quite fulfilled at least doing something that helps the public…it gives me peace of mind that I am doing something worthwhile, so I have decided to continue  to drive after I go on pension, and play golf on my days off!

A post by Hugh, Volunteer Driver for the NHCVS Community Transport Scheme