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The power of the community volunteer

Posted on 22 June 2016

I’m not sure whether you have noticed…but it’s been raining a bit recently.

Normally in miserable weather I try my best to stay indoors at all times or firmly under an umbrella if I’m forced to venture out. But last week I had planned to visit Silverdale Country Park and meet some volunteers with my colleague, Beth and I was determined to go.

So what, I thought! It’s on a bit of rain, right? How bad can rain actually be?

Famous last words...

Raining, pouring…thankfully there was no old man snoring, but it was by far the worst rain storm I had ever been in. I couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened – surely the volunteers wouldn’t be out in this?

A lovely surprise

As we tried - and epically failed - to find shelter under a leaf, Groundwork’s Park Ranger, Andy came round the corner to pick us up. He told us that the other volunteers were down the path and after a minute or so of walking we were greeted by laughter and we saw a make-shift tarpaulin hut, with seven volunteers standing underneath it while supporting it with various pieces of gardening equipment. It was clear that they were there to stay – the weather wasn’t going to stop them in their tracks.

"The weather doesn’t stop us!" Louise told us, who I soon learnt had volunteered at the park for four years. "We’ve been here in minus ten degree weather before."

How pleased we were!

A space with a view

We soon got a lowdown on the history of the park, which we learnt was created on the former Silverdale Colliery. The park is currently owned by national charity, The Land Trust and Andy had been in charge of the park - with his trustee team of volunteers – since 2011.

"Volunteers come and go, but there’s a group of four of us who have volunteered for over four years," explained Richard who was the first ever Silverdale Park volunteer.  

Despite the rain, the view from the top of Silverdale Country Park was beautiful.  A huge lake was in the middle of a vast green landscape. Old trees stood proudly alongside their newer rivals that were recently planted by the volunteers. Meadows of bright wildflowers added splashes of colour on the green backdrop. We learnt that stoats, badgers, foxes and brown hares lived here. Birds such as Skylarks and Lapwings called the park their home. Local schools regularly used the site, putting up home-made bird and bat boxes. An annual run attracted hundreds of members of the local community to come along and have fun.

Andy told us how the volunteers have come along to the Thursday and weekend sessions for years, building bridges, maintaining the trees, planting wildflowers and trees. It was clear just how important the park was to them all and just how much work went into preserving and maintaining the space. It seemed that the love of the park was contagious, as during our whistle-stop tour we didn’t find one piece of litter.

"We very rarely have to go on litter-picks" Louise proudly told us.

As we cleared a path of overgrown bushes I got talking to Richard who told me about how he got involved with volunteering at the park.  

"I started volunteering in 2011 when Andy started working at the park. I told him that I was on hand to help and I’ve been volunteering here ever since," he told me, as he lopped away at the branches.

"I love the variety of working in the park. Every week we do something different as there is always something to plant or make or maintain."

"I volunteer" 

After meeting the volunteers, what really stood out to me was the true commitment and dedication that they all had to ensuring that Silverdale was maintained for the whole community.  

Feeling part of a community is obviously something that spurs on the volunteers to keep up their hard work.

"We work with children at the local school and together we have planted over 7000 trees. These children didn’t know what an acorn was or what an oak tree was and we were able to help them learn," Louise said.

"Since retiring, I found I lost a part of who I was, especially as I used to work in the community.

"Now, when people ask what I do, I say: 'I volunteer'," she concluded.

Post by Stacey Aplin, PR and Communications Officer  

Groundwork UK