When I first moved to London, I volunteered a lot. Keen to widen my experiences and further my career, I helped out at a clinic for sex-workers before running an art group at a hostel for rough sleepers.
The latter combined my interest in people with my love of art but when I moved to north London to start a new job, I had to quit.
Eight and a half years later I found myself living in Walthamstow and thinking about volunteering again.
The main thing stopping me was time. Besides, I was getting close to burn out, working with people who demanded a lot of me both mentally and emotionally, and didn’t want additional demands on top.
It was then that I came across the leaflet I had picked up in Islington 12 months earlier. I’d had a chat with the volunteer running the doit.org stand and listed the reasons why there was no way I could squeeze anything else into my life.
She shrugged and handed me a leaflet on short-term, one-off volunteering opportunities. When I finally got around to checking out the Do It website, I found thousands of volunteering opportunities in London, but most of them required an awful lot of commitment.
Then I came across the Green Gym at Lloyd Park. It offers volunteers the opportunity to get involved in conservation whilst taking advantage of the added benefits to our physical – and mental – health that working in the great outdoors provide.
Based on my concern for the state of our environment and softspot for the local park, I contacted the co-ordinator Gareth. I was relieved by his lack of concern about my ability to come along every week.
Within weeks I was in my scruffs, weeding, dead-heading hedges and re-planting willow trees, and although my job doesn’t allow me to go every week, whenever I can, I’m there.
Recently I grabbed Gareth during our tea-break to ask him why he thought people like me kept coming back: “It’s a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere. There’s no stress and it gives people a sociable experience where they can meet new people. Anyone can join, there are no set criteria, and it’s free. It should be an enjoyable experience.”
Gareth’s right about the chilled out vibe at the Green Gym. For people like me who don’t really have a clue about conservation, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what mulch is, as long as you make the most of your time there and aren’t afraid to get stuck in. Volunteers can progress into a Volunteer Officer role if they want to.
Gareth says, “we lose a lot of volunteers that way. We see a lot of Volunteer Officers go on to get paid work and are always on the lookout for more.”
Currently a Council-supported project, the Green Gym is set to become fully independent later this year, run by volunteers with support from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) who set it up about 3 years ago.
As a public sector worker, I can fully appreciate the Green Gym’s desire to become wholly separate from the local Council when budgets are constantly being slashed.
Amazingly, it can be easier for an organisation to get funding without the financial support of local government.
Gareth explains: “It’s difficult to get funding. Our funding through the local Council is due to end, which was always on the cards but as an independent organisation we will be entitled to other money from ‘small pot’ funding streams.”
As a volunteer and local resident, I’m relieved to hear that the Green Gym at Lloyd Park is, for the moment, safe.
Knowing that my sporadic attendance is welcomed as much as if I was able to commit to coming along every week is also a comfort, as is the awareness that, if I want to become more involved in the management of the scheme, I can.
Either way, I intend to continue taking full advantage of my fortnightly sessions doing something that not only benefits the environment and the local community but benefits me too.